- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sometimes, the best thing to happen to a Fox television series is cancellation. The folks over at the just-axed “Head Cases” may disagree, but consider last season’s resurrected “Family Guy” and now the big-screen version of “Firefly.”

Joss Whedon’s space Western lasted a measly 11 episodes three years ago. Today, that series begets “Serenity,” a science-fiction event that could lure fans of both “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” from their respective folds.

The show’s gritty processing — everything from the special effects to the performances feel plucked from a secondhand store — reflects the project’s underdog spirit.

“Firefly” faithful, dubbed Browncoats in honor of the series’ anti-heroes, will swoon with every pre-packaged punch line and plot twist. Those who missed the “Firefly” madness can still appreciate the film’s ramshackle appeal.

Mr. Whedon’s first feature brings back the show’s original cast for their resumed adventures.

For the uninitiated, “Serenity” is set in a future run by the Alliance, a powerful political force that oversees the galaxy with an iron fist.

Lost in the shuffle are the vanquished freedom fighters, the so-called Browncoats who bristle at the Alliance’s omnipresence.

The film’s title refers to a scrap heap of a spaceship in the Millennium Falcon mold, helmed by Han Solo wannabe Capt. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). Mal’s ship features a boatload of characters who take on any transporting job to make ends meet, even if it means a little Robin Hood-sized thievery.

Their current cargo includes a psychic named River (Summer Glau) who gets rescued from Alliance researchers by her brother as the film opens and carries an unlimited potential for violence.

Mel would love to drop River off at the nearest asteroid, but for some reason keeps putting it off.

That draws the Alliance’s attention in the form of the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor from “Dirty Pretty Things”), an assassin charged with bringing River back at any cost.

The pursuit endangers not only everyone aboard Serenity, but anyone who ever gave the crew safe harbor.

The best science fiction marries otherworldly treats with raw social conflict, and “Serenity” periodically manages both. Mal’s reckless leadership gives way to concern not just for his crew but for the innocents crushed in the Alliance’s wake.

“Serenity’s” dialogue, a pastiche of cornball hokum and idiosyncratic accents, distracts more than necessary, but several of the film’s action sequences more than make amends.

Mr. Whedon, the man who put the bite in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” refused to take his pink slip seriously back in 2002.

Now, he might have a film franchise to call his own with the sloppy yet soulful “Serenity.”

***

TITLE “Serenity”

RATING: PG-13 (Sequences of intense violence and action, some sexual references)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Joss Whedon. Music composed by David Newman.

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

WEB SITE: www.serenitymovie

.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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