If a studio was looking to make the quintessential January release, “Serenity” would provide the perfect blueprint.

It’s a film with a talented cast – including Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway – and a setup that has an intriguing film noir kind of feel.

Then it all comes crashing down, with a mid-film plot twist so absurd you start to wonder if this is some elaborate ruse the cast and crew are playing on the audience.

“Serenity” starts fine enough with McConaughey playing Baker Dill, an Iraqi veteran who now resides in the tropical paradise known as Plymouth Island working as a fishing boat captain.

One day Baker’s past comes calling in the form of ex-lover Karen (Hathaway). She has an offer for Baker: Help her kill her abusive husband (Jason Clarke) and she will pay him $10 million.

It’s an offer Baker dismisses at first, but the more he learns about Karen’s new husband the more he considers the offer – resulting in a moral dilemma that will test his ideas of right and wrong.

If writer/director Steven Knight had stopped there, “Serenity” could have at worst been a mildly intriguing thriller.

Instead, he goes for broke, pushing the boundaries in a direction that no one will even see coming – because it’s too insane to think a film like this would try to pull it off.

The twist is so insane, it almost needs to be seen to be believed, but it’s so whacked out that several people during my screening were laughing at how ridiculous of a turn the story takes.

It’s a shame, too, because the cast for the most part does a good job. Baker is the kind of cocky guy with baggage that is right in McConaughey’s wheelhouse, while Hathaway does well with the femme fatale Karen.

Even Clarke gets some moments to shine, although ultimately his character is nowhere near as crazy as the second half of the film.

You also get Djimon Hounsou and Diane Lane in small roles, but the cast is hindered by the plot that I’m still not exactly sure how to digest.

Was Knight going for some morality play here? Or was he just trying to see how far he could push things and still have a studio agree to finance the film?

One thing’s for certain, he definitely pushes the audience’s suspension of belief in “Serenity,” with a breaking point that will either leave people laughing at its silliness or frustrated by what could have been.

– To get Micheal Compton’s reviews of “Cold War” and “They Shall Never Grow Old” visit his blog at bgdailynews.com/blogs/reel_to_reel or follow him on Twitter @mcompton428. Email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.

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