'Serenity,' with Matthew McConaughey, will leave you annoyed and agitated
For a good hour or so, “Serenity” is an old fashioned, below average, crappy thriller, the sort of movie that would be on Skinemax in 1992 at 1 a.m. if the sex were just a little more explicit.
And then, things take a turn.
Austin's own Matthew McConaughey is Baker Dill, the hard-drinking, harder-sweating captain of a fishing boat docked at some place called Plymouth Island, which seems like a Florida Key except the local radio station plays zydeco all the time. He and his first mate, Duke (Djimon Honsou), take tourists out on drunken fishing trips — a case of beer, try to catch some tuna or a shark, that sort of thing.
Baker is grappling with PTSD from Iraq, and he's the sort of guy who lets himself get obsessed. He's on the hunt for this one particular tuna, a massive thing he calls Justice (no kidding) that’s eluded him for years. On the shore, he hangs out in the one bar in town, accepts money for having sex with Diane Lane (let's not even get into how little sense that detail makes) and generally walks around town glowering.
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One day, his much younger ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway, keeping a straight face like a champ), shows up and offers Baker $10 million cash to save her and their son from her abusive husband, Frank (Jason Clarke, doing his usual best). She’s not going to tell him how to do it but, well, it’s pretty easy for a guy like Frank to get wasted and fall over the side of Dill's boat into shark-infested waters. Meanwhile, this guy in a suit named Reid (Jeremy Strong, still able to do anything) is chasing Baker all over the island, trying to get his attention.
So far, so meh. This is not exactly original fare, and writer/director Steven Knight seems content to deliver a ho-hum thriller in which the main attraction seems to be McConaughey’s naked butt. Seriously, if you are a fan of the McCona-can, it might has well have its own credit in this thing.
And then Knight delivers a twist so totally out of nowhere, so utterly bizarre, that the movie goes from “Who cares?” to “WAIT, WHAT?!” in the space of a scene.
It’s the sort of about-face that makes professional critics look at each other in abject, eye-rolling shock, not to mention the sort that could make paying customers demand refunds on the spot, such is the manner in which Knight has really, really not played fair with the audience.
Quickly, one thinks about what one has just seen. Did one miss something early in the narrative that could have clued one in to this idiotic swerve?
Well, there was that one early shot that gave us a seemingly impossible P.O.V. There was that other moment where two characters seemed to be communicating almost psychically or something. But the storytelling in general is so floppy, the characterization so perfunctory and the motivations so one-dimensional that it was easy to chalk that stuff up to simply lousy filmmaking. But no, they were perhaps tiny clues, poorly executed in and of themselves.
The more one thinks about it, the more one can see a cast with this kind of talent reading the script and thinking, “Okay, that’s kind of cool and trippy and MIGHT work if it’s executed correctly.”
Alas, it is not.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane
Rating: R for language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images
Running time: 1 hours, 46 minutes
Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Barton Creek, Cedar Park, City Lights, Flix, Gateway, Hill Country, Lakeline, Moviehouse 620, Moviehouse Lantana, Pflugerville 20, Round Rock, Southpark