For the first hour of Steven Knight’s Serenity, there’s a sense that what’s onscreen couldn’t possibly what the filmmaker had in mind.
After all, this is the man who wrote and directed the enthralling Tom Hardy showcase Locke, brought Peaky Blinders and Taboo to the small screen, and has shown a prowess for everything from cooking dramas (The Hundred-Foot Journey; Burnt) to WWII spy sagas (Allied) to suspenseful looks at chess (Pawn Sacrifice) and the British legal system (Closed Circuit).
Yet there’s Matthew McConaughey, hamming it up as luckless Florida fishing boat captain Baker Dill, obsessed with catching an elusive giant tuna, prone to insulting his first mate Duke (Djimon Honsou), and frequently in the bed of apparently retired Constance (Diane Lane), whose escape-friendly cat he’s frequently tasked with retrieving. (Which may or may not be an intentional sex joke.)
Stuck on the improbably central narrative of Baker pursuing the prized fish, Serenity contracts Body Heat fever when the protagonist’s ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) shows up, introduced with the first of several pointless and cheap-looking camera whips. Her femme fatale favor? Murder her abusive husband (Jason Clarke) on a chartered water ride for a $10 million reward, thus freeing their son from a life of misery.
And then, some…let’s say “new information” is revealed, in arguably the most ham-fisted way possible, that helps explain the overacting and general tonal awfulness of the movie’s first half. The epiphany also raises some disturbing questions regarding the racier content on display — it’s one of the most naked-backside-friendly films in some time — but combines with the fresh insanity and inanity to produce the kind of fully-committed trainwreck entertainment that’s all too rare in modern cinema.
As for the twist, to reveal it would accomplish little. It’s so nutty that few readers would believe it, though due to its implausibility or some other mysterious factor(s), the material has attracted a gifted cast to enact its wildness in a highly professional manner that makes it all the more crazy.
The convergence of bizarre elements grants it must-see status for viewers interested in how far removed from logic a reputable production can get, but despite what amounts to a recommendation, don’t go mistaking Serenity for a good movie.
Grade: D. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Aviron Pictures)