You can almost set your watch to it. Every January, as moviegoers race to catch up with the previous year’s high-profile Oscar hopefuls, the studios dump their lower-profile junk on unsuspecting audiences. Whoever said that April is the cruelest month clearly wasn’t a film lover.
Which brings us to Serenity. For the first hour, the new Matthew McConaughey-Anne Hathaway thriller seems like it might be a sultry neo-noir in the vein of Body Heat, Palmetto, or even the loopy Wild Things — a deadly cocktail of sun, surf, and sin. But then the movie’s inevitable stench of January-ness kicks in and it jackknifes so completely off the rails, your jaw just falls right into your lap.
Written and directed by Steven Knight (Locke), the film stars McConaughey as Baker Dill, a fishing boat captain in a tropical beach town called Plymouth. He’s the sort of sweaty, hard-living rogue you just know is trying to outrun a haunted past long before his femme fatale ex (Hathaway, blond and breathy) shows up to explain that past. Hathaway’s Karen has tracked Baker down to plead for him to save her and her son from her abusive new husband (Jason Clarke, still mysteriously speaking in his Chappaquiddick accent). Karen offers Baker money and sex to push her spouse over the side of his boat and let the sharks take care of him.
Knight knows how this game is played — and also how many times it’s been played before in far better movies. So he tries to get overly clever in the homestretch. But, as Spinal Tap’s David St. Hubbins once famously said, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” And Serenity steps way over that line. It wants to be trashy, pulpy fun that toys with your mind and your expectations. Sadly, it just ends up insulting both. C
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