'Serenity' film review: Lazy, pointless plot twist sinks iffy thriller

'Serenity' film review: Lazy, pointless plot twist sinks iffy thriller

An ill-conceived and poorly executed big plot reveal eclipses the many failings of the noir drama "Serenity" (in theaters nationwide Jan. 25) - which is unfair to this film's numerous missteps and poor choices.

In short: Fishing boat captain Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) struggles with strange visions and money problems when his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) suddenly appears, offering Baker $10 million to kill her abusive husband Frank (Jason Clarke). Djimon Hounsou, Diane Lane and Jeremy Strong also star.

This movie's massive twist (which will not be revealed in this review) is as pointless as it is ridiculous. The film is marketed and even presented initially as a "sexy thriller," yet there's another layer on top of those genre flick - an element that supposedly permeates every facet of the story. The film hints that something elusive is off-kilter - something mostly alluded to through Baker's mysterious visions.

The movie's twist is head-scratching in the worst way possible. At one point, McConaughey's character refers to his own theories about the plot twist as "intellectually challenging" - and it's just the opposite. The reveal is not "head scratching" in the sense of "whoa - that's makes you think man" but more in the vein of "why is any of this happening and who thought this plot turn was a good idea?"

"Serenity" could have been a fine little drama had it been content with being a committed and sincere "sexy thriller" - a simple three-character drama involving temptation, money and murder. And it almost feels as if the story started out as a tense noir drama - but writer-director Steven Knight could not come up with a compelling reason why Baker wouldn't just kill Frank ... so the screenplay just added a contrived plot twist to invent the silliest roadblock for Baker. The moral dilemma of a desperate man, with every reason to kill man yet is internally conflicted with taking a life, was clearly deemed not dramatic enough. So instead, Knight's script threw in a plot twist that neither substantially progresses the plot nor does it add much depth. Any potentially thought-provoking implications of the tantalizing plot twist are completely abandoned - rendering the twist as just a hollow and stupid plot device.

There's no less than four Academy Award nominated actors featured prominently in "Serenity" - and no one performance in this film can even be described as good (some are outright cartoonish). While it turns out there's some basis for some of the odd, stilted acting choices, it remains worth nothing how silly and borderline camp Hathaway's performance is at times. Lane barely gets any screen time (her character serves just one, simple purpose), Hounsou is the closest thing to a voice of morality in this film and Strong's character seems to be from another movie.

Then there's Karen's abusive husband - a man who unaware of the price on his head. Clarke's character is so repugnant and disgusting on every front possible that it single-handedly removes the tension of 'should Baker kill Frank?' If drama is defined by conflict, then outright removing any internal conflict whether or not to take an action removes any potential drama from that conflict: depicting Frank in such an arch, one-dimensional manner fundamentally hurts this film and narrows Baker's motivations. "Serenity" goes out of its way to just pile on the reasons why Baker would be justified in murdering Frank. "Serenity" just gives up trying to make any argument why Baker should not kill Frank (for any number of reasons) - it just throws in a plot gimmick and hobbles to a stupid, stupid resolution that means nothing and has no consequences for its characters.

Final verdict: The plot twist is ridiculous - but even if that's removed from the conversation for a moment, not much else about 'Serenity' is compelling.

Score: 1/5

'Serenity' is now playing in theaters nationwide. This dramatic thriller has a running time of 106 minutes and is rated R for language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images.

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