Sold as a sort of Body Heat with sharks, Serenity promised an Interstellar reunion by way of sweaty neo-noir—and sharks. Per the marketing, the film sees Anne Hathaway recruiting her ex-husband, fisherman Matthew McConaughey, to take her current husband, Jason Clarke, on a boating trip meant to end in his being fed to a Great White—with murderous and presumably erotic results! But it’s also an Interstellar reunion beyond its cast. McConaughey is, for whatever reason, also reunited with the imagery of driving his beat-up ol’ pickup through some stalk-filled fields. And, unfortunately, he and Hathaway once again make minutes feel like days exploring some vague, high-concept, kid-saving hogwash.
As the film opens, McConaughey’s Baker Dill is awash with adrenaline and sea water (he’s frequently drenched) as he tries and fails to reel in his StarKist Moby Dick, an enormous tuna his first mate (Djimon Hounsou) suggests Dill has lost many a time. A broke fisherman, Dill jumps around tasks to get the supplies and cash he needs to continue his dream of finally dividing that fucker into some five-ounce cans. He takes tourists out on fishing ventures; he buys new and better equipment; he rescues Diane Lane’s cat; he fucks Diane Lane. Outside the final task—the first of two sex scenes that last about as long as McConaughey’s woeful True Detective sex—it’s honestly pretty tedious.
But one evening, in the haunt where Dill smokes and swigs rum, another absurd caricature arrives: Dill’s ex-wife Karen (Hathaway doing Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential with all the soulless passion of a porn parody impression). Her sadistic, cartel-connected new husband, Frank (Jason Clarke, still being in things no matter how much we shrug), has apparently been abusing her and terrorizing Dill’s withdrawn, now-estranged teenage son, and she wants to pay our scowling fisherman $10 million to take Frank into the ocean and feed him to the fish.
[Major spoiler ahead, if it’s even possible to spoil this thing.]
The idea would seem to be as lean and stripped down as McConaughey’s repeatedly-exposed ass (his is the only nudity in the film)—save for all the fishing minutiae, obviously. It’s only a bit past the hour mark that Serenity truly lays bare its tush for what it really is.
It’s a goddamn video game.
At last giving us Tommy Westphall’s Tuna Fisher Pro, a good 95% of Serenity takes place in the program of an autistic boy. Dill has been doing these mindless quests because they are, indeed, just that: quests in a strangely lurid island RPG wherein players try to snag the biggest tuna, and supplement that by negotiating Diane Lane’s various pussies. The sudden arrival of Karen and Frank was, apparently, Dill and Karen’s real-life son altering the game’s code to now turn fishing into an erotic thriller—complete with a mom-and-pop sex scene prefaced by a lengthy discussion of mom losing her virginity. In fairness to both writer-director Steven Knight and this programming prodigy, they didn’t pull their punches on delivering this trash, regardless of whether either iteration is worth even a free download.
The literal game-changer of a reveal explains a few things (quite explicitly, thanks to a character who unsubtly calls himself “The Rules”), but it also raises a larger question: to what end is this a video game now?
Given that the boy has about two minutes of total screen time—all of it dead-centered on his face—it’s not like there are a lot of clever real-world analogies to be found in his virtual world of sex and tuna; it’s all exceedingly on-the-nose. Estranged father Dill is his actual estranged father, who it turns out is estranged because he’s dead in real life. Abused mother Karen is his abused mother. Frank? You get the idea. It’s just that.
So why even drape this damp digital layer over McConaughey if he’s just going to strip it off? Serenity’s answer is to abruptly make this thing an almost entirely different film in its back half. Instead of trying to interweave its two stories, or in any way rationalize why anyone would hope to tell this not-quite-story, it shifts gears into something informed by the likes of Dark City, The NeverEnding Story, Westworld, Star Trek: TNG’s Moriarty crap, and even The Truman Show—as if EDtv wasn’t enough.
Dill is a lazily-formed mush of Matthew McConaughey performances, alternating between horny frat-boy and broodingly morose as he sprints straight for the beach, shirt off before he hits the water. Our lead doesn’t fully realize that he’s quite that much of a malformed McConaughey simulacrum, but he, with the audience, does come to realize that he’s trapped in a wretched video game. And, like the audience, he’s about ready to kill someone to end this shit.
After a preposterously small existential crisis, Dill (the computer character) loosely implies that he’s kind of sentient, or is maybe the actual embodiment of his inspiration’s soul, or… something. This is where Serenity: The Series (But Not Firefly) would have really took off, but Serenity: The Movie only has about a sitcom episode left in its runtime, so it drops these ideas as readily as McConaughey tosses off his rolled-up khakis. Turns out: through Serenity’s bizarre mix of exceedingly straightforward and profoundly futuristic shit, the entire point of this VR Surfer, Dude was—get this—to convince the teen to finally murder his step-dad alongside the VirtuaConaughey’s murdering his virtual step-dad. So he does that.
They could have just put McConaughey and Hathaway in a modestly entertaining Captain Ron remake but, instead, here you go: Steam’s most eroticized fishing game, as a movie about an unspeaking kid getting a rap sheet.
Director: Steven Knight
Studio: Aviron Pictures
Runtime: 106 minutes
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong