Cargo -- Film Review

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AUSTIN -- When a sci-fi yarn begins with an advertisement promising picture-postcard bliss on some faraway planet (and it seems like an awful lot of them do), savvy viewers can quickly suss out the general nature of the "surprises" the tale has in store.

So it is with this film, an import from Switzerland whose big look belies a budget that was reportedly tiny even for a Swiss production.

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Atmosphere only goes so far, though, and "Cargo" isn't packing much to generate the suspense it hopes for. Its appeal is limited to die-hard genre fans who will appreciate its obvious sincerity and what it accomplishes technically despite limited means.

The story features a young doctor, Laura, a refugee from disease-ravaged Earth who has taken a job aboard a long-haul freighter in hopes of earning enough to join her sister on the paradise planet Rhea. During her stint doing ship maintenance, with the rest of the crew asleep in icky cryo-goop, things start going bump in the night. Laura's not alone, and it quickly becomes clear that one or more of her crewmates has a secret agenda

The plot borrows liberally from any number of genre classics, and unfortunately it has little to offer of its own. Filmmaker Ivan Engler appears so eager to play in the sci-fi sandbox -- to photograph astronauts drifting through space in jetpacks, to hear the clank of a massive airlock, to watch the shipboard computer count down toward zero -- that he kept imagining the movie's action even when the plot ideas stopped coming.

Bits of homage in the screenplay (a sky marshal sent along by the intergalactic TSA is named Decker, an echo of Harrison Ford's Deckard in "Blade Runner") may endear the film to some, but they also beg comparisons that leave this ponderous movie looking dull and narratively addled. A couple of set pieces generate some suspense -- particularly one staged among storage containers in a vast, shadowy cargo hold -- but that tension dissipates quickly in this vacuum-sealed world.

Venue: South by Southwest Festival

Production company: Atlantis Pictures Ltd.
Cast: Anna Katharina Schwabroh, Martin Rapold, Regula Grauwiller, Yangzorn Brauen, Michael Finger, Pierre Semmler, Claude Oliver Rudolph, Giles Tschudi
Directors: Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter
Screenwriter: Ivan Engler
Producer: Marcel Wolfisberg
Director of photography: Ralph Baetschmann
Production designer: Matthias Noger
Music: Fredrik Stramberg
Costume designer: Rudolf Jost
Editor: Ivan Engler
Sales Agent: Telepool GmbH
No MPAA rating, 101 minutes
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