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Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway Are Sunk in ‘Serenity’

Forget the plot twist, Steven Knight’s romantic thriller goes wrong in ways that are staggeringly dull

Serenity

Constance (Diane Lane) and Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) in 'Serenity'

GRAHAM BARTHOLOMEW/Aviron Pictures

How can you miss with a film noir starring Matthew McConaughey as a fisherman tempted by femme fatale Anne Hathaway to feed her sadistic husband to the sharks for $10 million? And, hell, the script is by Steven Knight, who did himself proud with Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises and directed the formidable Locke with Tom Hardy. And yet the batshit bonkers Serenity fails on every level, first as entertainment and then as a new-agey thumbsucker about a magical, mystical tour through the subconscious. Serenity finds new definitions of bad that almost make the damn thing worth watching for its magnificent flameout.

But almost doesn’t cut it. Serenity goes wrong in ways that are more staggeringly dull than perversely delicious. The movie just plods along as we watch McConaughey, as Iraq veteran turned fishing-boat captain Baker Dill, go tropical on Plymouth Island, a paradise off the Florida coast (the film was shot in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean). Baker and his faithful first mate, Duke (Djimon Hounsou), spend their days taking out rich tourists to hook a tuna Baker calls the “beast” or “Justice” — pick your favorite metaphor. The thing is Baker goes nuts if any of his customers even come close to hooking the fish. Justice, that beast, belongs to him, though he can’t seem to catch him. The allegory overload is crushing.

At night, Baker enjoys sweaty sex with Constance (Diane Lane), who pays him for the privilege and begs him to find her missing cat (more metaphors). Enter Hathaway in a blonde wig as Karen, an old love with whom he fathered a son, Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), a teen who buries his love for his absent father in video games. Serenity is a movie where everyone plays at the “game” of life.

Are you catching the film’s inexorable drift into haunted psyche territory? Serenity plays like the bastard child of Body Heat and The Sixth Sense, minus the heat and the sense. At first, Baker is reluctant to go for the bucks to kill Karen’s husband Frank, played by Jason Clarke like a hateful glare made flesh. Then the creep shows up asking about a place on the island where “little girls will take it in the ass for 10 bucks a pop.” #Eww. If you don’t want Baker to kill Frank instantly you will when you learn that the sleaze viciously beats Karen and the boy. What’s a father to do? Baker seems to be getting telepathic messages from his kid to save him from this predatory stepdad.

Is anyone seeing dead people? The twist in the plot is too left-field to predict, but when it comes you’ll have to suspend disbelief to the point of blindness. Serenity is unburdened by logic or a single good reason for existing. The actors look trapped, pained to utter the next line of dialogue. Young Patrick buries his head in video games, but it’s the audience that gets played. What an infuriating mess the makers of Serenity have unloaded on an unsuspecting public. It’s still only January, but Serenity has already earned a place among the year’s worst movies. Karen can keep her millions. I’d feed this misfire to the sharks free of charge.

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