By Kim Hughes
Conceptually ambitious and sporadically entertaining but more often confusing and ultimately kind of dumb, Serenity must have seemed appealingly high-minded on the page. But the zigzagging new thriller lands with a thud despite a skilled cast and writer/director Steven Knight’s (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) commendable desire to scribble outside the lines of conventional narrative.
Serenity also relies on significant suspension of disbelief among audiences which, in the end, may matter less than the filmmakers might have hoped for had its bizarre, plot-shattering twist scanned more persuasively. Something essential that lured this starry cast in clearly didn’t make it onto the screen.
When we meet the fabulously named Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey, all thousand-yard stares and pensive sighs), it’s clear he’s wound too tightly for a captain of a for-hire fishing boat, ironically named Serenity, operating out of an idyllic village on fictional Plymouth Island — actually Mauritius slumming as a Barbadian outpost. Dill’s obsession with an elusive outsize tuna (yes really) is driving him bonkers. Though he knows something is amiss, upstanding first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou) has his own issues to manage. So Duke, like us, tentatively waits and watches as the irregularities pile up and Dill gets drunker and weirder.
Our first clue that things are not as they appear arrives with Dill’s ex, Karen (Anne Hathaway). Repeatedly, we are told and shown that nothing happens in Plymouth without the entire village knowing about it, yet in waltzes super-rich, foxy Karen without a single eyebrow shooting skyward, including Dill’s lover Constance (Diane Lane) who has a bird’s eye view of Dill’s boat in the marina outside her bedroom window.
Karen, as the film’s trailer details, wants Dill to take her abusive, alcoholic husband Frank (a cartoonishly evil Jason Clarke sans dastardly moustache) out on a fishing trip and return without him. But all movie-goers know that no murder is simple, even a warranted one against an obvious foe. There is also something more profound than lost love linking Dill and Karen… OK, OK, it’s a kid. A very gifted kid. This gives rise to what points to an alluring telekinetic puzzle piece but ends up, like many things in Serenity, as just another red herring diverting from the big reveal all reviewers of this film have pledged to keep secret. Sigh. Enough said.
Serenity begets goodwill, mostly because its cast is committed and writer/director Knight is aiming high, which counts for something in a remake/retread milieu. But wanting to like a movie and actually liking it are very different things. Serenity never bridges the gap.
Serenity. Written and directed by Steven Knight. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Djimon Hounsou, Diane Lane and Jason Clarke. Opens wide January 25.