“Serenity” already has had a movie workout, as the name of the big-screen version of the sci-fi series “Firefly.”
The newer film with that title prides itself on putting forth plot twist upon plot twist – to the extent that it risks becoming a parody of itself. It also makes it challenging to say too much about story details, since a lot of what you think it is turns out to be not that at all.
At least it’s fair to mention the picture’s starting point, a variation on “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Body Heat,” with Matthew McConaughey as a down-on-his luck charter-boat operator whose ex-wife (Anne Hathaway, who also worked with McConaughey in “Interstellar”) wants to pay him a fortune to kill the man she’s married to now (Jason Clarke).
A straightforward premise, right? Well, wait: Writer and director Steven Knight can’t resist the impulse to keep changing up “Serenity” (the name of the boat, as it was for the “Firefly” spaceship) – and though he obviously has a solid cast that also includes Diane Lane, Jeremy Strong and Djimon Hounsou, the actors can do only so much with material that isn’t solid enough to keep you from becoming impatient with it.
That’s the very big catch with a movie like this. It can’t merely be trickery for trickery’s sake, there has to be a certain code that the characters play by and stick to … even if it’s an amoral one. Mess with that too much, and the audience feels fooled, and not in the satisfying way that such films as “The Sting” and “The Sixth Sense” pulled off.
McConaughey eases his way through the type of role that fits him like a relaxed glove – the sort he was handed more often than not before his Oscar-winning work in “Dallas Buyers Club” reaffirmed the acting depths he could go to.
Hathaway has it tougher here; her screen history suggests she can do virtually anything, but the femme fatale she’s asked to play is out of her wheelhouse. She tries, but the problem is that she looks like she’s trying, rather than occupying the part as naturally as moviegoers are used to from her.
In the end, the title of the film proves to be quite ironic: It attempts too many twists to keep you from feeling “Serenity.”