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Serenity (2019) Movie Review

Serenity (2019) movie poster Serenity

Theatrical Release: January 25, 2019 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Steven Knight

Cast: Matthew McConaughey (Baker Dill), Anne Hathaway (Karen Zariakas), Diane Lane (Constance), Jason Clarke (Frank Zariakas), Djimon Hounsou (Duke), Jeremy Strong (Reid Miller), Charlotte Butler (Lois), David Butler (Jack), Rafael Sayegh (Patrick), Michael Richard (Ron), Robert Hobbs (Ape), Kennth Fok (Lionel), Garion Dowds (Samson)

 

Five years after filling lead roles in Christopher Nolan's ambitious sci-fi epic Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway reunite in Serenity, which is sure to go down as one of 2019's worst-reviewed films. Originally scheduled to open in theaters last October, Serenity, which is unrelated to Joss Whedon's "Firefly" continuation, instead arrives in January,
which those who follow movies know is traditionally a month reserved for bad movies that have no chance of succeeding any other time of the year.

McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a big game fisher on the tropical island of Plymouth, who takes tourists out on trips to try to catch sharks and tuna and such. Haven't heard of Plymouth? It's in the middle of nowhere. Baker has lived there for an indefinite time, having given himself a new identity. He supplements his fishing tours with some inexplicable sex for money with Constance (Diane Lane), a woman of modest use to the story.

One day, a blonde woman named Karen Zariakas (Hathaway) shows up and recognizes Baker as an Iraq War veteran named John, who also used to be her husband. Now, Karen is married to Frank (Jason Clarke), a monster of a man who abuses her physically. Karen offers Baker/John $10 million to take Frank on a fishing trip and have him not come back, if you know what I mean. Why such a steep fee and why at the hand of her estranged ex, who isn't particularly qualified for such work? Karen says it is the wish of their teenaged son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), who is obsessed with computer games and rarely leaves his room.

"Serenity" stars Matthew McConaughey as Baker Dill, the captain of a big game fishing boat based on the mysterious tropical island of Plymouth.

We're already in some dangerous waters and that's without me spoiling the film by revealing the hare-brained twists that undermine the entirety. Serenity is written and directed by Steven Knight, a Brit who is well-regarded for screenplays that include Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Locke, The Hundred-Foot Journey, and Allied. Knight's body of work is the only reason why A-listers McConaughey and Hathaway and in-demand veterans Clarke, Lane, and Djimon Hounsou would come aboard something that must have been just as hokey and dumb on the page as it is in its finished form.

Nothing adds up in any meaningful way here. Baker is repeatedly pursued by the nebbish, bespectacled Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), who claims he is a bait and tackle salesman. We have our doubts long before he finally tracks down Baker on a stormy night at 2:30 in the morning for a sales pitch involving a free trial of a fishfinder. The conversation eventually becomes a kind of eye-opening Matrix-like reveal that had the critic next to me angrily yet matter-of-factly asking "What?"

To know the answer to that question is to understand why Serenity falls so flat. But even though I doubt more than a couple of million people in this nation of 325 million will pay to see this in theaters, it would still be bad form to spoil anything. So you'll just have to trust me that the narrative frustratingly goes nowhere good and that almost every character introduced and every idea and obstacle raised is without a purpose.

Karen Zariakas (Anne Hathaway) tracks down her ex (Matthew McConaughey) and gives him ten million reasons to kill her abusive new husband.

Following his 2010s career-reinventing "McConnaissance", you could make a movie adapted from McConaughey's whiskey and car commercials and I'd probably be interested. As such, this project was on my radar for a while. But Serenity proves that some movies are just so doomed that no actor could save them. The leading man here stumbles through this part that's a cross between Quint from Jaws and Truman Burbank. He sheds his clothes repeatedly with apparent pride that his body looks better than those of most people turning 50 this year. He smokes cigarettes continuously as if he's been hired by Big Tobacco to make nicotine sexy again. He talks tough to men and has sweaty sex with women. And he never really earns a modicum of our sympathy, even when the movie not so nimbly contrasts him with Frank, who stands as proof that all the money in the world can't discourage some people from wanting to have anal sex with underage girls.

Discussed but not dramatized, that's actually some of the most concrete characterization we get in a film that desperately wants to be an ethereal mystery. The thing is mysteries must have intrigue. Serenity is devoid of it. We do not care what the salesman is selling. We do not care whether Baker takes his ex up on her drastic half-baked proposal. We do not care whether a large tuna called "Destiny" is ever caught.
This is all so poorly written and presented that you struggle to believe it is the work of an Academy Award-nominated veteran with thirty years in the business and sixty years on this earth. It's especially puzzling when Knight's previous directorial effort had us riveted spending 80 minutes inside a car with Tom Hardy.

Just five years after his Dallas Buyers Club Oscar win, McConaughey has hit another rough patch. It's not his nadir. That came earlier this century when he was content to make romantic comedies in which he leaned backwards on the poster across from Kate Hudson. Still, in the years since Interstellar, McConaughey's best movie has been Gold, one of the biggest box office bombs ever. Serenity might even be worse than The Dark Tower, that dreadful Stephen King adaptation of 2017. Before you go adding this to your 2020 Razzie Awards predictions, know that this movie is expect to open soft and disappear soon, which is not great news for Aviron Pictures, the young distributor who counts this as only their fourth theatrical release. Perhaps the studio will fare better with the other three movies on their 2019 slate. As for McConaughey, he's likely to rebound critically at least in the lead role of The Beach Bum, a March comedy from Spring Breakers writer-director Harmony Korine whose colorful recently released one-sheet has filled certain corners of the Internet with excitement.

Related Reviews:
Matthew McConaughey: Interstellar Gold White Boy Rick Amistad The Dark Tower Dallas Buyers Club
Anne Hathaway: Ocean's Eight The Princess Diaries The Dark Knight Rises Ella Enchanted
Written by Steven Knight: Allied Burnt The Hundred-Foot Journey Eastern Promises Dirty Pretty Things The Girl in the Spider's Web Pawn Sacrifice
Now in Theaters: Stan & Ollie The Upside Capernaum Vice On the Basis of Sex If Beale Street Could Talk

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Reviewed January 24, 2019.



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