Call it the M. Night Shyamalan problem: Should a film distinguished by howlingly tin-eared dialogue, emaciated characters and a plodding, easily guessed plot be pardoned its crimes when its maker reveals after 90 or so minutes that he's made his illusion less than fully persuasive ... on purpose?
There are a million potential answers to this insoluble aesthetic quandary, but the only correct one is: Nnnnnnnnope!
Certainly not when the movie comes to us from a proven storyteller like Steven Knight, screenwriter of the fine thrillers Eastern Promises and Allied, and the writer-director of Locke—a drama in which he and Tom Hardy, owner of the only face seen in the entire film, held us rapt for 85 minutes without ever leaving the confines of an SUV. A filmmaker who can pull off something that formally audacious ought to be able to handle a seemingly conventional neo-noir like the new Serenity, but the underwhelming results indicate Knight might've laid out in the sun for too long. ("I had so much bad [expletive] rum I lost my grease," drawls its hero, diagnosing both himself and the movie.)
Knight's daylight mystery is not without its soapy, dopey pleasures, and it would likely be more satisfying were it simply content to be the vaguely Caribbean-set, deeply McConaughey'd retread of Body Heat its initial hour-plus suggests. The picture opens as so many episodes of Miami Vice have, the camera skimming low across emerald waters towards a boat. On the deck salty sea captain Baker Dill (!!!)—Matthew McConaughey, as though any other movie star would be walking around under that moniker—has just pulled a knife on the two drunken tourists who hired him to take them on a fishing cruise. They've hooked one, all right, but Captain Dill refuses to hand over the line so one of his customers can reel 'er in. That's because—as Dill explains to his first mate, Djimon Hounsou, playing a character whose only job is to be the sounding board and conscience for the white star—this is the quarry he's been chasing. "I can feel it," Dill says.