January has barely come to a close and I have already found what will undoubtedly be one of the most terrible movies of 2019, and that is none other than Steven Knight’s Serenity. It is an unrelenting and absurdly hideous mess, but it’s the specific kind of terrible that makes it impossible to look away from and I almost want to tell you to go see it. It checks a lot of my favorite so-bad-it’s-good boxes. It’s got a good cast, solid budget, earnest effort by most people involved, and even earns bonus points due to plot twists evoke audible and uproarious laughter in a crowd of unsuspecting moviegoers.
Ridiculously named protagonist Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a fishing boat captain of a yacht named Serenity on an island where everyone looks sweaty and like they’re exhausted from working 16-hour-days on a film set. He helps out Constance (Diane Lane) and has a long-established relationship with her. One day, a femme fatale from his past (Anne Hathaway) rolls into town with a proposition for Dill. She wants him to take her abusive husband (Jason Clarke) out fishing and push him off into the ocean and let the sharks have at him. And that’s about all I want to tell you of the plot here.
There is a case to be made for what constitutes a spoiler because this is very much the kind of film where it’s less of a spoiler and more of a selling point. This movie is so ludicrously bizarre and so laughably terrible that it must be seen to be believed. It falls squarely into the category of bad movies like Collateral Beauty and Life Itself, where I’m just so taken aback by the horror unfolding onscreen that I’m almost enjoying myself in spite of it all. I’m certainly never bored.
McConaughey seems to be the only actor here who does not realize how stupid this movie is. He is playing it completely straight, and he’s doing his finest Lincoln commercial performance, in which he oversells tedious monologues and literally yells at the sky multiple times. Anne Hathaway seems to be having a bit more fun as the Hitchcock blonde type, and she’s making the garish melodramatic nature of this work to her advantage. The same goes for Diane Lane, who can sleepwalk through this kind of performance, and she does, because there really isn’t much to her character.
Jason Clarke is quickly becoming typecast as a generic evil dude, and there’s nothing interesting or exciting about his performance. And poor Djimon Hounsou continues to have significant struggles finding interesting work to do as an actor. He’s wasted here, as Dill’s second-in-command who occasionally pops in to give him advice.
Writer/director Steven Knight, who also made the terrific Locke, and most recently wrote the awful The Girl in the Spider’s Web last year, is also one of the original creators of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Perhaps he should stick to game shows. It’s impossible to imagine that this script must have been checked and rewritten and approved by many people in suits who ultimately allowed this insane idea to make it all the way to the big screen. To Knight’s credit, the movie is for the most part, shot nicely and the noir-ish nature of it is compelling in a few brief moments. Also, there is something enjoyable about seeing a cast of this stature come together for something that feels like a suicide mission. Serenity is a film doomed from the very beginning that so entertainingly goes off the rails and crashes into the ocean and drowns.