Stay on target MovieBob Reviews: ‘Shadow’MovieBob Reviews: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ How the hell anyone is supposed to review Serenity? I’ve no idea.The only way I can conceive of that’s at all fair is to give offer a basic, short, spoiler-free review upfront, then leave some space, then talk about… the other stuff. Not necessarily “spoilers,” but points that I’d still say you’d be better off NOT knowing or hearing about before watching the film itself. Besides – if I told you any actual spoilers, I sincerely doubt you’d believe me.So, then: Serenity is, in the broad strokes, a neo-noir thriller of the type we used to call a “potboiler” starring Matthew McConaughey as an Iraq vet turned burned-out (yet curiously-fit, as is his way) fishing boat captain scraping by in a perpetually sun-baked island community on the edge of nowhere hiding from nondescript past sins with an erratic schedule of odd jobs and random distractions: Sometimes he takes tourists out to catch “the big one,” sometimes he bags lucrative swordfish for cash, sometimes he helps Diane Lane as a sexy fellow lost soul find her constantly-runaway cat and sometimes she pays him for sex so he can buy more bait, tackle and booze. But mostly, he’s driven by (what else?) an Ahab-by-way-of-Hemingway quest to hook a legendary monster of a tuna nicknamed “Justice” that keeps getting away from his hook.As we’re firmly in noir territory by now, this routine can only be upended by the arrival of Anne Hathaway as an ostentatiously out-of-place wealthy femme fatale who’s also the hero’s embittered ex-wife. It turns out the sleazy super-rich criminal type she left him for (details are, in a word, “murky”) has turned out to be an abusive controlling monster (Jason Clarke) and she now fears for her and their (meaning her’s and McConaughey’s) son’s lives but can’t simply “leave” – so she wants to instead pay the cash-strapped fisherman $10 million to pretend to take the bad guy out for a birthday deep-sea fishing excursion and kill him.Though initially reticent to do so, he begins to reconsider as he becomes wracked by grim (possibly psychic?) visions of his son, who has retreated from reality into the world of obsessive computer gaming. Meanwhile, a fastidious mystery man with a briefcase and out-of-place business suit played by Jeremy Strong seems to be following him from place to place on the island – but always just missing the chance to actually encounter him. And then everything get’s… complicated.The film was directed by Steven Knight (who wrote Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises and also wrote and directed Locke) and both he and the hugely over-qualified cast do a fine job carrying off both a sincere impression of the kind of sweaty, high-gloss, super-cheesy, lurid-yet-adolescent vibe a neo-noir thriller is supposed to have while also planting the weird seeds for… well, we can’t get into that yet. The end result is as strange but also thoroughly committed to an idea as any film you’re likely to see this year, and while I don’t necessarily know if I enjoyed it the way I was intended to enjoy it I recommend the experience all the same……which about takes us to the end of “What I can say without edging close to spoilers.”[QUASI-SPOILER WARNING FROM THIS POINT ON]Essentially, without giving away the specifics: Serenity is almost sort of a “practical joke” on the audience in terms of how it’s narrative eventually plays out. I’m not sure how else I could describe it. The basic “gag” is that the film is actually an entirely different genre of film than it originally appears to be (and has been advertised as), and while it’s not necessarily the first time I’ve seen a film attempt that level of a rug-pull on its audience it’s certainly the first time in awhile I’ve seen one drop the reveal in the middle of the story and then just keep right on going – as though this was what everyone had signed up for all along and the audience isn’t instead stuck in their seats looking at everyone else around them going “Are you seeing this? Am I losing my mind? Is this really the movie?”After all, most genuinely bizarre “You’ve got to SEE this to believe it!” movies have the decency to announce that that’s what they are upfront to on degree or another: The Book of Henry told you it was going to be nutty, it just didn’t tell you the precise road it was taking to to get there. The Sixth Sense had that big twist, sure, but going in you did know that it was a horror movie about ghosts and it remained as such. Serenity is something else entirely, a movie that doesn’t really seem to “work” like it was intended to largely because it’s all hinged on a turnaround that I’m not sure could have ever actually worked – which makes it (in my opinion anyway) a fascinating must-see of a pop-cultural “artifact” …where you can’t really tell people WHY they must see it.What I can say is that, while I don’t really think the way it plays out ends up “working” in the strict dramatic sense (there’s a little too much “tell” as opposed to “show” and I get the sense it might’ve honestly played better to be either explained in MUCH greater detail or absolutely no detail at all instead of how the film tries to split the difference) it’s SUCH an audacious, big, showy, bold swing of an idea I can’t not respect that they took a shot at it. Plus, if the test of a good “reveal” is that it reframes what you thought you were seeing before in a new context and upends your opinion of the production overall? Mission accomplished.While the first half does indeed successfully affect a conventional neo-noir potboiler, it’s also peppered with odd touches that don’t totally make sense on the first pass: like the odd cinematography and editing choices, overly-general dialogue from supporting characters, elements of costuming and design that verge on the cartoonish, arch characterizations and the fact that the island doesn’t seem to have a singular cohesive identity or “place” but rather comprises a hodgepodge of stock “fishing community” movie tropes… just a lot of little askew details that lean in the direction of an almost Twin Peaks vibe – until we get The Answer and go “OOOOOH! That’s what all that was.” …quickly followed by “But they won’t really take this all the way to – oh, wow, okay, we’re doing this. Holy shit.”And again: I’m reasonably sure none of this was a “good” idea that could’v possibly worked – it’s just kind of incredible that it exists and they got this close at all. Serenity is ultimately probably the kind of film that’ll wind up on tedious “Worst Lists” at the end of the year and the stars will joke around about later and there’ll probably be a RiffTrax for, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the utterly bonkers experience of it in the moment.