I’m no actor, but I’d like to think if a script ever came my way with lines like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if nobody knows anything?,” and “Just how many years have I been here, Jack?,” and “How dare Old Joe feed my cat,” I’d know that the movie would probably open in the middle of January when the studios leave their garbage on the curb. But I’m just me, so it’s possible that Matthew McConaughey was sent the pages for “Serenity” and saw something more fit for April or May, when the movies don’t need quite as much cologne.
It’s also possible that he read the script — with its tale of a chain-smoking, heavy-drinking, sweat-soaked fishing boat captain, his ex, her battering new husband and the elusive tropical tuna that haunts the captain’s every waking hour — and recalled the last time he was on the high seas then said aloud, “I miss ‘Fool’s Gold.’” More than half the reason I went to see this movie is because I miss “Fool’s Gold,” too. But that movie is 11 years old. And the days of low-stakes thingamabobs with some stars and even a little bit of writing are gone.
Instead of a caper with Kate Hudson, McConaughey has got a mess written and directed by Steven Knight. The captain — his captain, Baker Dill — has unsexy sex with Diane Lane’s character. He tries to catch that fish alongside his dutiful first mate (Djimon Hounsou). He puts up with the nerdy, White Rabbity stranger (Jeremy Strong) chasing after him and managing the return of Karen, this ex of his and mother of his son. She’s played by Anne Hathaway, as a blonde, and her arrival at the local bar appears to be an event so momentous that the camera has to sprint-swoop around her to gawk. I laughed when it did. Baker Dill is a lousy character name. But that camera pivot is lousier.
Karen asks Captain Dill to take her mean spouse (Jason Clarke) for a boat ride but doesn’t ask to bring him back. But maybe Dill would rather catch that fish than commit murder. So Karen keeps alternating between femme fatale and mysterious detective-novel damsel until he consents.
For reasons known only to Knight, “Serenity” couldn’t just be a film noir. He’s laid some kind of science-fiction nonsense atop it because, apparently, the movie needed a ply of trashy pretension to echo Adrian Lyne’s thriller “Jacob’s Ladder” and complement the luxe incoherence of McConaughey’s Lincoln ads. There are cutaways to Baker and Karen’s son feverishly typing code while, offscreen, his stepdad can be heard slapping Karen around. (It’s possible that Baker can hear his son — telepathically!) The more we learn about that half of things the less sense the rest of the movie makes. That includes a big reveal that’s like the worst of Christopher Nolan, M. Night Shyamalan and the condolence-card section at Walgreens.