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Front Page - Friday, February 1, 2019

Critic's Corner: Surprise twist of ‘Serenity’ is simple: It’s a really bad movie

I was about an hour away from seeing “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” when a crying customer pulled up to the drive-thru window of the fast-food restaurant where I was working. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she’d just seen “Star Trek II,” and Spock dies.

Movie spoiled.

When “The Sixth Sense” came out, all anyone could talk about was the jaw-dropping twist at the end. So, when I saw it, I kept thinking about the twist, which I figured out within the first hour.

Movie ruined.

These experiences are the basis for two rules I have about movie twists:

I don’t reveal them to people who haven’t seen the movie (unless it’s an old movie and I need to make a point in this column)

When talking about a movie, I don’t even hint that there’s a twist.

That said, I’m going to break my second rule as I write about “Serenity.” The movie is all about its twist, and it would be difficult for me to express my thoughts about it without mentioning the neck-snapping hard right turn it takes. Also, the twist is so fearlessly, boldly and audaciously bad, it begs discussion.

But don’t worry; I won’t ruin the movie for you. Rather, I hope to pique your curiosity and compel you to see “Serenity,” which falls into the hallowed category of movies so bad they’re actually good.

“Serenity” follows military veteran Baker Dill, who lives on an island off the Florida coast and skippers a fishing boat for tourists. When business is slow, Dill catches and sells large game fish, and when he lacks money for gas, he sleeps with Constance, who in one scene coughs up $700 for what must have been an exceptional evening.

“I’m a hooker who can’t afford hooks,” says Dill, played by an unhinged Matthew McConaughey, as he frowns and pockets the cash. What a line.

Later, Dill is sitting at a bar when his ex-wife, Karen, walks in looking like Jessica Rabbit and talking like she’s stepped out of a film noir classic like “The Maltese Falcon” or “Double Indemnity.”

It takes Karen only a few minutes to get to the point: She’s arranged a weekend getaway for her abusive husband and wants Dill to take him on the water, get him drunk and push him overboard. Not only will she pay him handsomely, she says, he’ll be protecting his adolescent son.

At that point, I thought a theme about justifiable crime was emerging. But when the twist nearly cracked my third vertebra, I realized that would be giving the screenplay by writer, director and producer Steven Knight too much credit. If he’d applied any logic to the story, everything preceding the twist would have been different.

When you see “Serenity,” ask yourself a couple of questions after you’ve recovered from the twist. Given the nature of the twist, why does Dill strip, dive into the ocean and imagine himself floating below the surface with his son, who’s also naked? (Mark my words: There will not be a more squeamish scene in a movie this year.) Also, why is there so much drinking, cursing and sweaty sex in the movie?

It’s as though Knight wanted to have things one way before the twist – just to reel everyone in – and then another way after the twist. But when you look at what takes place before the twist in the light of that revelation, the entire movie collapses like a house of cards.

“Serenity” takes on a lot of water even before the twist arrives, beginning with the performances. Knight must have told McConaughey to turn his acting up to 11, like the amp in “Spinal Tap.” McConaughey then added a 12 to the dial.

Case in point: Dill is inexplicably obsessed with catching a large tuna he’s dubbed “the Beast” to the point of growling madly and waving a knife at two customers to ward them off the rod and reel when one of them snags a big fish. McConaughey worked up a real sweat in this scene, too. A few shots in, he looks like he’s been standing in a hurricane.

Anne Hathaway, who plays Dill’s wife, seems to be the only one who’s aware she’s stumbled into a cinematic disaster. She spends most of her screen time looking dumbstruck, which is the only appropriate response to the nonsense in “Serenity.”

All the blame for how “Serenity” turned out rests on the shoulders of Knight, who has no one to blame but himself. Beyond the atrocious writing, he seems unsure from behind the camera, where he mixes and matches directing styles without rhyme or reason. One minute, it seems like he wanted to make a brooding noir thriller, and the next the camera is whooshing in a circle around Dill like Knight thinks he’s directing an episode of “Miami Vice.”

“Serenity” should not have made it past the idea stage. But it did, which means you have an opportunity to see a movie that’s not just bad, but is so bad it’s entertaining. As I watched the film, I marveled that Knight was able to convince someone to give him $25 million to make it, and I felt bad for the actors, who must have recoiled in horror when they saw the results of their work.

I wouldn’t waste a dime on seeing this turkey in a theater, but the moment it hits the streaming channels, invite some friends over, throw some tuna on the grill and enjoy an evening of deep belly laughs and head shaking bewilderment.