THE arithmetic on "Serena" is fascinating. Two of the biggest movie stars in the world (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) plus an Oscar-winning director and a best-selling novel somehow add up to a forgettable, under-the-radar, video-on-demand release.
The film, which opens in limited theaters today but has been available on VOD for much of the month, has long been a subject of intrigue since it was shot in 2012 and more-or-less hidden under a rock since.
It's a well-intended, handsomely shot but altogether unsuccessful drama. After all this time, one almost hopes for a Titanic-sized catastrophe, not merely a wayward mediocrity.
"Serena," directed by the Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier ("In a Better World"), is based on Ron Rash's 2008 novel about a Depression-era timber baron named George Pemberton (Cooper) who's immediately infatuated by a more common woman with a dark past, Serena (Lawrence).
The setting is evocative. The Czech Republic countryside doubles attractively but unconvincingly for the Smoky Mountains. Tension doesn't boil so much as make occasional jabs at entering the film. A purpose is elusive and instead, scenes awkwardly assemble the cliched moments of a frontier drama.
That "Serena" never comes through with any force or feeling can be attributed to a number of things: the imprecise script by Christopher Kyle; Cooper's bland, inscrutable performance; the film's uncertain pacing. The period costumes (by Signe Sejlund) and Morten Soborg's smoky widescreen cinematography help paper over the problems, as does the excellent Lawrence.
Sensual and strong, she commands every frame she's in.