Thursday, January 24, 2019

Second-rate material sinks 'Serenity'

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway drown in a thriller set on a Caribbean island.
Serenity, a new movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, tells the kind of story that’s meant to be played back in viewers' heads once the movie concludes. That sort of exercise can fun, but in this case, the playback likely will lead to an unhappy conclusion: Not only do the pieces in the movie’s puzzle seem mismatched, but the whole enterprise is marked by silliness and over-reach.

Serenity begins as a noir thriller in which an abused wife (Hathaway) asks her ex-husband (McConaughey) to kill her current husband (Jason Clarke). Not only will the murder net McConaughey’s Baker Dill a cool $10 million, but it will also help his son escape a vile stepfather.

The movie takes place on a Caribbean island the movie calls Plymouth, a detail that has as little meaning as just about everything else in this misfire.

When we first meet Baker, he's a boat owner who takes beer-guzzling customers on day-long fishing expeditions. Early on, Baker gets crosswise with two customers by refusing to allow one of them to reel in The Big One, a giant tuna Baker evidently has been trying to catch for years and with which he's developed an Ahab-like obsession.

Baker is aided in his efforts by an assistant (Djimon Hounsou), a man who tries to help Baker control his temper. Baker thinks Hounsou's recently widowed character has brought him bad luck.

When he’s not at sea, Baker carries on an affair with a woman played by a wasted Diane Lane. Lane’s character gives Baker money when the fish aren’t running — if that’s what fish do.

The plot picks up when Hathaway, in overdone blonde femme-fatale makeup that borders on Halloween costume chic, shows up to enlist Baker in her plan: She wants Baker to take her current husband to sea and drop him into the drink.

Meanwhile, the movie dishes out colorful detail as if it were afraid it might run out of ways to add flavor.

An example: Baker, who lives in an abandoned shipping container, has a unique idea of what it means to take a shower. He sheds his clothes, runs naked toward a cliff and leaps into the ocean.

Speaking of showers, director Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises) also films a lot of scenes in the rain which — McConaughey’s character — doesn’t have sense enough to come out of.

Now and again, the story ambiguously cuts to images of Baker's son working at his computer. The screenplay lamely suggests a near-paranormal connection between Baker and his teenage son, who’s still back on the mainland.

To add to the sense of mystery, a man in a suit (Jeremy Strong) keeps following Baker but continually fails to connect with his quarry. When the two finally meet, the movie indulges in silly exposition about games, rules and the unknowable nature of reality.

The whole enterprise is marked by a thorough lack of credibility, a problem that mounts as McConaughey’s performance goes increasingly over-the-top.

McConaughey’s Baker wants to catch The Big One, but it’s not the fish that gets away: It’s this whole preposterous, self-serious movie.

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