Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Celluloid Ramblings: SERENITY (2019)

by JB
Serenity NOW!

Serenity is one of the worst movies of 2019. Serenity is also batshit crazy. Serenity contains a twist ending that elevates all the other shitty twist endings ever attempted in the history of cinema to stunning works of intellect. The Village? Genius! Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes? A higher plain of exquisite twistdom! It is difficult to describe just how bad this movie is. Words fail me!

What we have here is a modern film noir concerning Baker Dill (Matthew McConnaughey) who runs a fishing charter boat on tourist mecca Plymouth Island. His first mate is Duke (Djimon Hounsou) who is unlucky. Dill seeks an elusive giant tuna and is so bent on catching it that he will gleefully ignore paying clients whenever the tuna appears. I don’t just mean that he leaves them waving money on the dock—I mean Dill threatens these boozy tourist fishermen-wannabes with a knife and makes them hide below deck while he plays Captain Ahab with Charlie the Tuna. Needless to say, Captain Dill does not get much repeat business.

Oh, and the tuna’s name isn’t really “Charlie.” Writer/director Steven Knight, fearing the film isn’t quite pretentious enough, has Baker Dill name the tuna fish “Justice.”

Let it be known that I would like “THE TUNA’S NAME WAS JUSTICE” carved onto my tombstone.

Dill is dating an amorous widow named Constance (Diane Lane). Many nights he can be found in her sweaty embrace. Dill is angry because he can’t catch the giant tuna and never has any money. Constance is angry because she keeps loaning Dill money and because she is an Oscar-nominated actress who is given nothing to do but look longingly out of windows.

This is just the first ten minutes!
It starts as a pretty standard noir revenge plot: Dill’s ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) shows up on the island unexpectedly; shares with Dill that her new rich husband Frank (Jason Clarke) abuses her; suggests that the mistreatment is having a deleterious effect on their son, Patrick; and urges Dill to take Frank out on the boat and murder him. She offers him ten million dollars to do so.

So, does the good man go astray when the femme fatale shows up with promises of money and sex? Will the awful man be done in through a combination of malfeasance and circumstance? Will the film test the audience’s collective patience with a screenplay and performances that are absolutely bonkers?

Unfortunately, Serenity is not a film noir; I would hard-pressed to even come up with a genre for it, though I can think of some adjectives that describe it: risible, corny, unbelievable, runny-nosed, up-its-own-ass, and moronic. What we have here is a motion picture that, based on the evidence onscreen, was reverse-engineered from its crazy twist. Yet the twist does not make sense and, the more one ponders said twist, the less sense it makes—so the reverse engineering is for naught. This movie simply does not work as narrative, as entertainment, as any known entity on our planet.
The asinine twist ending of Serenity reminded me of the recent asinine twist ending of Glass: both are so balls-out nutty that they seem designed to somehow let the movies themselves off the hook (sorry) for all the dumbness that transpires before the twist.

In answer to what you’re wondering…. NO. No, I’m NOT going to spoil the twist. I am urging you to SEE this incredible film before it leaves theaters. We, as film lovers, are spoiled by the professional and entertaining products that Hollywood studios release on a weekly basis. When is the last time you saw something really bad… fascinatingly bad? I thought so.

Plus, the scenery and locations are stunning. Serenity is like taking a two-hour vacation in the middle of winter. The day I saw it, the temperature outside was 1 degree.


I saw Serenity at an early matinee screening frequented by senior citizens. As soon as the end credits began to roll, I fine-tuned my Spidey-sense because I desperately wanted to overhear what these seasoned filmgoers thought about the shit soufflé they had just been served.

The first thing I heard was an elderly gentleman loudly exclaim, “Bah!” I suddenly realized that, though I had certainly read it in books and heard it in movies, I had never in my life heard a real, live human make that noise. “Bah,” as it turns out, may be one of the most keenly observed reviews of this film.
Next, I heard an elderly lady turn to her cohorts and exclaim, “I’m not sure I really understood that!” My heart went out to her. Five dollars poorer thanks to misleading Hollywood marketing and peer pressure, she felt sure that her two friends must have understood this nonsense better than she—this movie is so dismally bad, she BLAMED HERSELF. I felt like standing up in the still-darkened theater, screaming, “No, you’re FINE, there’s nothing to understand,” and pressing a five-dollar bill into her frail, trembling hand.

The final old couple out of the theater paused briefly at the exit. The husband snorted, “fucking ridiculous” and disappeared into the restroom. Mic drop.

It was all I could do to restrain myself from trying to organize an impromptu discussion group in the lobby.

Later that night, Adam Riske saw it and we briefly texted about how magnificently bad it was. His screening just over, Riske could only manage the following text: “Dude… dude… Serenity.” When he had at last gathered his wits, he jokingly asked for MORE Baker Dill movies to be made. I suggested that “Dill… Baker Dill” could be the James Bond for the new millenium. We spent the rest of the evening suggesting possible titles: Fishfinger, From Plymouth with Love, Thunderboat, Tuna is Forever, For My Son Only, On Her Majesty’s Secret Tuna Fishing Charter, Albacore Royale, MoonBaker, and Live and Let Cliff Dive. My wife suggested that Baker Dill would drive an Aston Marlin. The whole conversation made me really glad that I had seen Serenity.
THE CRITICS RAVE: Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com writes that “Serenity is terrible and insane.” Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calls it “an infuriating mess.” Miles Surrey of The Ringer suggests that we “REOPEN ALCATRAZ AND GIVE STEVEN KNIGHT A LIFETIME SENTENCE.” Should I See It’s Michael Ward raises the stakes by suggesting “The year? Nah. Serenity ranks as one of the worst films of the decade.”

Should you see Serenity? Remember—the tuna’s name is Justice! I think that’s all you need to know to make this important life decision… for yourselves.


  1. No License to Dill? Seriously, this sounds amazing and has shot to the top of my list.

  2. On the surface, this sound like a casebof the Wild Things

  3. Adam Riske just reminded me that I accidentally omitted The Wharf Is Not Enough from the list of James "Baker Dill" Bond titles...

  4. Fascinatingly bad is the most accurate description of this movie.

    I do want to shout out Jason Clarke's almost supernaturally loathsome Frank. Clarke seems to know just what movie he is in and is appropriately subtle with he performance.

  5. I had never even heard of Serenity before this article, so I believe it's a testament to JB's writing that I now cannot see this movie fast enough.

  6. I went and saw this blind for the Thursday preview screening. Never saw a trailer or read anything about it. Purely went on Cast, Writer/Director, and setting.

    I loved the movie! No ironic "so bad its good" level of love, either. Genuine enjoyment ... but I fully understand where the reactions are coming from.

    Its hard for me to defend the movie without spoiling it however. There is very specific reasons I appreciate this film that can't be explained without spoiling the film. I dont know if this site is cool with Spoiler Tagging things however. So maybe someone can direct me there?

  7. I bent over backwards not to reveal the twist in my review, but I am fascinated to hear your take... Tell you what: wait 48 hours, label your comment SPOILER, and then explain yourself, young man!


    Per JBs Request:

    Throughout most of the movie leading up to the revelation of the nature of the world that McConnaughey is in, its pretty reasonable to think the movie is fully off its rocker. But once its been exposed as a artificial video game world, I think it makes a lot of the previous experiences have a bit more logic applied to them. This is a video game movie, but more specifically, a Role Playing Game movie with NPCs (Non-player characters) that are designed to have limited roles for the Player to interact with. Characters that are idle until McConnaughey chooses to interact with them. There are games that function nearly identical to how the town of Plymouth functions, fishing simulations and all! Far too idyllic port towns with a limit cast of characters that all seem to revolve around the central character controlled by the player. I think its a very specific avenue of video games to write a movie with in mind, but as someone who has grown up with and played a lot of video games -- I found all of this to be very endearing. The otherside of this, is all the bizarre behavior and over dramatic scenes, which I can feel could be partially explained by the fact that a 13 year old is programming all of this, and doesnt have the capabilities or life experience to draw from to create much subtlety. Every scenario and detail is heightened so much that I feel this was an intentional design by the films writer/director Steven Knight. Obviously these aspects are what has launched the film into a bit of a laughing stock. There was lots of very BOLD choices made with this film, clearly. When the film ended I was very impressed and appreciative of such a unique direction the film took (and a bit disturbed by the finale of the film too).


    Its a shame now that its been revealed in the press that McConnaughey and Hathaway are fairly pissed at the Studios (Aviron) handling of the marketing for the film that its unlikely we ever get the actors impression or experience of working on the film and its concept. It will just get swept under the rug so as not to interfere with whatever their next release is. However, McConnaughey, keeps making those bizarre Lincoln car commercials, which I feel could be just as harmful to his career as Serenity could prove to be.

  10. Thank you, Jef. This is a lucid and coherent explanation of how you found something to like in the film. I think all of McConnaughey’s dealings with the townspeople (and how the film kept hammering away that everyone in the town knew everything) had me expecting an EVEN MORE OUTLANDISH Twilight Zone reveal. Thanks for posting.

  11. BTW: McConnaughey went on Colbert to hawk the film. The only thing Colbert wanted to talk about was the nude scene. I gave McConnaughey credit for giving it “the old college try” to publicize the film.