Hopefully Serious Moonlight will not become Meg Ryan’s Trog: an embarrassing, final starring role in an otherwise respectable movie star career that has sputtered to a halt in recent years. As Louise, a type-A careerist who responds to the sheepish adultery confession of flakey husband Ian (Timothy Hutton) by knocking him out cold and duct-taping him to a chair for some ad-hoc marital therapy, Ryan is saddled with the impossible task of grafting her diminished charms onto a risible, psychotic harpy with no relatable human motivation. For most of this film’s torturous duration, Louise stalks around a drab bedroom set, circling the stationary Ian like a sharky inquisitor as she alternately scolds him for his infidelity and collapses into self-effacing fits of neediness that would make any feminist wretch. Ryan’s hopeless attempts at importing some America’s sweetheart sunniness into the grim setup by rehashing the exasperated guffaws and instances of self-satisfied certainty from her most memorable performances are met with a wall of coldness by Hutton, whose affronted, angry husband consistently berates his wife as a psycho bitch when not making plays for freedom through expressions of understanding and a desire for reconciliation, loudly telegraphed in their insincerity.
Allaying any doubts about who bears responsibility for this train wreck, director Cheryl Hines compounds her horrific misunderstanding of dramatic cadence with numerous displays of technical incompetence. Shots are inexplicably allowed to fall out of focus, slow motion is employed to assist any complex movement, and the demands of basic shot composition prove too much, despite the majority of the film taking place in one room with two actors. What passes for a plot development occurs halfway through with the out-of-nowhere arrival of an opportunistic burglar (Justin Long, understandably keeping his face partially obscured behind a kerchief throughout) who ties up Louise and proceeds to verbally and physically abuse the couple.
Aggressively out of step with Ryan’s semi-comic posture, Long’s burglar delivers sickeningly realistic jabs to Ian’s face and sexually assaults Louise, explicitly degrading her and fondling her chest while Ryan lies helpless on a bathroom floor, no doubt mentally retracing the steps of her derailed career. The repetitive, witless abuse of Ian and Louise, as well as of Ian’s girlfriend Sara (Kristen Bell), who stupidly shows up eventually only to get tied up along with the others, is disturbing on its face, but also in the ease with which it recalls the bathroom murder of the film’s own screenwriter, Adrienne Shelly. The “creative” team behind Serious Moonlight almost certainly intended to honor Shelly by posthumously staging this possibly unfinished, low-budget attempt at a War of the Roses-style comedy of marital hell, but by fumbling the execution so spectacularly they’ve instead created something that’s an insult to the tragically deceased.