Although the new year is young, the first hour of Serenity easily was vying for the title “worst-written film of 2019” — and I could see it maintaining that status until next December. And this was a bit unexpected, because of the pedigree: The writer (and director) is Steven Knight, whose dark, brooding screenplays for films like Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises and Locke have established his bona fides. His movies aren’t always good, but they are well-crafted. How could he churn out such detritus? His attempt at a Double Indemnity/Body Heat noir about a fisherman (Matthew McConaughey) approached by his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) to hill her brutish husband (Jason Clarke) feel flat in every scene, every line, every character point.
And then, 65 minutes in, there’s a twist that more or less explains why everything that preceded it felt so clunky. It began to make sense (a little). But there were still another 40 minutes to go.
Serenity is a difficult movie to review because of the twist without giving everything away, but suffice it to say it shares more of its DNA with The Sixth Sense and The Matrix and even last year’s awful Kin than with Chinatown.
But even if you grant that it isn’t at first the film you think it will be, you have to wonder: Who exactly is the audience for this movie?! It doesn’t work as a mystery, as a romance, as a psychological thriller, as a family drama or as a fantasy, though it touches on all of them. What’s left for it?
It would be bone-headed to assail the acting due to the limitations caused by the plot, though its sweaty sexuality actually ends up being creepy. I would not recommend someone see Serenity; on the other hand, if you happen to catch it, might as well stick with it to see what I mean.
Another film — screened last year for critics but not released in Dallas until this weekend — actually did make my worst-of list a few weeks ago. There’s no reason Stan and Ollie should be as bad as it is. It is based on the late lives and careers of the famed early film comedy duo of Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly), and Coogan wrote the screenplay, something he’s pretty good at (Philomena). But mostly it’s a film with tension but no conflict, about how these legends have drifted into near-obscurity and forced into second-rate theaters for a proposed comeback tour. It’s all very predictable … so much so that you’re always 20 minutes ahead of it. While it improves marginally near the end — Reilly has some good pathos as Hardy — it’s too little, too late.
— Arnold Wayne Jones