“Rubikon,” a talky, soporific sci-fi drama, is partly an environmental heads up and partly an ethical argument that hews mainly toward utilitarianism. Yet there’s sufficient ambivalence in the screenplay (by the Austrian director, Leni Lauritsch, and Jessica Lind) to suggest that, given the characters’ minuscule odds of long-term survival, their philosophical choices are less consequential than they appear.
It’s 2056 and a poisoned Earth is ruled by corporations and their armies. While the wealthy huddle comfortably in filtered biodomes, the poor are left to choke. Aboard Rubikon, Earth’s sole remaining space research station, a scientist (Mark Ivanir) has invented a game-changing, algae-based filtration system. And just in time: As Hannah (Julia Franz Richter), a corporate soldier, and a colleague (George Blagden) arrive to evaluate the system, a creeping brown fog seems intent on extinguishing all life on Earth. Should the crew members risk their lives to save what remains of humanity?
However thoughtful and well-intentioned, this debut feature is too airless and long-winded to excite. Winking screens and sterile corridors, cleanly photographed by Xiaosu Han and Andreas Thalhammer, make for clinically repetitive visuals and a depressing mood that the constant quarreling and no-good-choices plot only intensify. In short, the film’s sobriety is a drag, offering the actors little room to add color, their characters’ moral disparities less interesting than the small details of corporate-controlled life — the crippling debt burdens, the expendability of the soldiers, the compulsory contraceptive device behind Hannah’s ear — scattered throughout the speeches. There’s a whole world of deprivation in those details, if only the filmmakers had the budget to bring it to life.