It’s the early months of the 2019 year, which means all the good movies that came out months ago are lining up for awards. Which means the movies coming out in theaters… generally speaking, aren’t really at risk of missing out. But even with this knowledge, nothing could really prepare me for Serenity.
Matthew McConaughey is Baker Dill, a deep sea fisherman who captains the Serenity, a small fishing boat. He lives on the vaguely Caribbean Plymouth Island, taking rich tourists out to sea so they can catch trophy fish, but getting in the way of his livelihood is a gigantic tuna he wants to land named ‘Justice.” Five minutes into this big fish story, with melodramatic music swells and all, and I had about enough of it.
But Baker’s ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) soon shows up and offers him $10 million in cash to take her abusive husband out to sea and dispose of him. A bit contrived maybe, though at this point it’s certainly a step up from the Moby-Dazed-and-Confused plot we were first presented with. And when her ex-husband does arrive, Jason Clarke goes out of his way to show just how odious and horrible he is, and he drops lines about Baker’s son spending all his time on his computer. But we’ve started to get some clues that Plymouth Island isn’t what it seems.
Baker doesn’t really talk much. And he doesn’t have to, because most of the characters on the island surrounding him talk exposition at him. Additionally, they all seem to catch each other up on the events of the film between scenes, so that they’re always fully up to date and Baker barely needs to interact with them. Scenes cutting between Baker on Plymouth Island and his son in an undisclosed location on a computer imply that they’re speaking to one another telepathically… somehow. Meanwhile a lure salesman chases Baker down, arriving just after he leaves from several scenes, remarking on his poor timing. Is it bad filmmaking, or is it… set up for a bad twist?
That’s really as far as I can get into the film’s story without discussing the utterly bizarre twist. The plot is pretty threadbare, and it feels like the whole movie was built around a drunken “What if…?” question that was intriguing at first glance, but nobody really had a good enough answer to. For those who aren’t into watching bad films ironically and have no intention of seeing Serenity, I can at least say the cliche twist of “It was all a dream” has a modern twin that’s both a cop out and a laughable turn.
Nothing really advances further in the plot, as the film has set itself up as such a cornball joke that there’s no interesting direction it could turn. I honestly can’t remember if the twist happened halfway through the film, or whether it was at the end of the second third, like any screenwriting 101 book would advise.
Appreciation for bad cinema has taken off in recent years thanks to the popularity of movies like The Room and Troll 2. Some people, myself included on occasion, enjoy subjecting themselves to bad movies for the social aspect of getting together in a group and experiencing something bizarre, something awful, and then laughing about it together afterwards. Do I expect Serenity to join the ranks of the best of the worst? Not really. It does feel like an earnest mistake on the part of the filmmakers — they didn’t set out to make a bad movie. But other than the aforementioned twist (which honestly did leave me ironically enjoying the film for a short while) nothing about it really rises to the level of absurdity that would be necessary to save the film from being utterly forgettable in the long run. It’s more Ishtar than I Am Here …. Now.
Which is a real shame, because between Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Djimon Hounsou, Diane Lane, and Jason Clarke, some good talent went to waste in this movie. But what was I expecting? It is January, after all.
Barely enjoyable even on an ironic level, Serenity is all washed up.