October, 2005, Drama

Manaola Dhargis, the outstanding New York Times film critic, sometimes lets her fascination for pop culture get in the way of her usually sharp eye (and tongue.) She recently praised the latest of George Romero's zombie movies with more enthusiasm than one would usually provide for something in that genre, primarily because she considered it "best of class". She's done the same thing here, suggesting in her review that this extension of writer/director Joss Whedon's now canceled T.V. series is better by far than the latest entry in George Lukas' seemingly unending Star Wars saga. It might well be, but that's damning with faint praise; Serenity is a likeable if overlong entry in the sci-fi category featuring plenty of breezy dialogue, budget-constrained special effects and some surprisingly pointed takes on issues like leadership, loyalty, the importance of free will & our obligations to others.

The plot has been recycled from dozens of previous entries; at some point in the distant future, the universe has been organized under a central command that requires unquestioned obedience to "the common good". A small group of refugees from the war that brought about this global domination exist on the fringes of the most remote galaxy, scratching out a semi-legal living as long-distance haulers. When a uniquely trained--and brainwashed--young woman escapes from her government indoctrination and surreptitiously joins the crew of one of these inter-galactic jobbers, the authorities dispatch one of its more ruthless officers to capture her. He's an unctuous automaton who sounds suspiciously like a fundamentalist Christian television evangelizer, amazed that everyone doesn't see and accept that they'd be  much better off if they simply followed the official rules and behaved themselves. The outcasts won't have it of course, setting off a two hour tour of various and sundry exotic locales as the pursued dodge their pursuer and ultimately expose the government's mind-controlling program for what it is.

The acting is a cut above average for this type of effort, but I went expecting much more thanks to Ms. Dhargis' enthusiasm. 

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