Genre: Sci-fi western.
The pitch: In the movie version of Fox TV's short-lived "Firefly," Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), captain of the ramshackle freighter Serenity, protects genetically modified teen River Tan (Summer Glau) from the relentless Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) of a galactic dictatorship.
Money shots: Several nail-biting chases with "the Reavers," space cannibals who fly smoke-belching ships. Serenity sets up -- and must escape -- a pitched battle between rival armadas. In the big showdown, the Operative wields a samurai sword and Mal whips out ... a lil screwdriver. River swings blades in a Reaver fight worthy of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (another cult show from writer/director Joss Whedon).
Best line: "This is the captain. We may experience some slight turbulence -- and then explode," Mal announces in a sample of Whedon's ironic dialogue.
Second best line: "We're gonna explode? I don't wanna explode!" protests scene-stealing roughneck Jayne (Adam Baldwin -- the actor who's not one of the Baldwin brothers).
Body count: So many on- and off-screen massacres -- including the "death" of a sexually active android -- prevent an exact figure. The striking thing is that being a "Firefly" regular doesn't guarantee survival in Serenity.
Better than the TV show?: Yes and no. Whedon hasn't quite mastered big-screen directing, so Serenity suffers from narrative rough spots and some fake sets worthy of the original "Star Trek." But the action scenes play on a huge canvas, and Fillion's wry, intense performance makes Mal a space rogue worthy of Han Solo.
The bottom line: Like a Robert Altman film in space, the first act's rush of characters and locales will dizzy the uninitiated. But Serenity remains a four-star experience for anyone familiar with "Firefly," and the sheer novelty of seeing a space opera with smart dialogue and credible characters will leave audiences floating on air. Opens Fri., Sept. 30. HHHHI
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