Dragonfly
review by Elias Savada, 22 February 2002

The more Kevin Costner rests on his pretty-boy laurels, the public is, regrettably, going to have tepid films like Dragonfly tossed at them. His fans might consider taking a bug swatter to his latest effort, a pale Sixth Sense imitation. Non-Sense, actually. You see dead people. I see dead writing. Brandon Camp, Mike Thompson, and David Seltzer mash out a comatose script that lets the sap flow down a river of cameo stereotypes and mindless dialogue. Your chances of really enjoying this semi-spooky journey into the Madame Cleo's psychic zone is about the same as finding honest judges in the ice-skating competition at the Olympics. Sure, it's more entertaining than 3,000 Miles to Graceland, Costner's uniquely miscalculated last effort, but on the critical Savadameter scale, Dragonfly flutters below the horizon to a mere one wing out of four. I guess the producers are hoping for a wing and a prayer. They'll need more than that to get this flattened bug off the ground.

No, it doesn't bring to mind the metaphysical What Dreams May Come, a truly unbearable visit to that other world between life and death, but the effect is nearly as fatal. Costner drifts through the film with barely any emotional direction from Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, and Liar Liar), whose first excursion out of comedy and into something "truly serious" flounders about with insipid conversation and wiggly symbolism that only a mapmaker might find amusing. The film closely aligns itself with Shadyac's foolish but more watchable Patch Adams in twisting the heart strings until they snap; however Costner's dreary funereal gaze sharply contrasts with the manic energy of Patch's Robin Williams.

Dragonfly's trailers have been pushing the eerie Mothman Prophecy buttons for expectant audiences, yet after viewing the entire film, the prescription is a meager dose of angelic white lights, telekinetic anomalies, and a few tablets of cheap, abrupt fright gimmicks. The real scare come when such a decent support cast fails to register in such a heavy-handed effort. Joe Morton and Ron Rifkin have bare walk-ons as a strong-armed hospital administrator and a concerned, organ-hungry surgeon. Joe Darrow (Costner) works with them as head of emergency services at Chicago Memorial Hospital (isn't that where Dr. Kimball started out before turning fugitive?). Before the opening credits are over, Dr. Kimball's, er, sorry, Dr. Darrow's wife Emily (Susanna Thompson) perishes in a muddy rockslide when on a Red Cross mercy mission in South America, having put her career as a pediatric oncologist on hold to wrestle with middle-class social angst. What's a pregnant girl to do but absurdly drag herself off to the edge of civilization, deep in the jungles of Venezuela?

The rest of the film follows Joe through a series of is-she-or-isn't-she experiences wherein the grieving widower waits for several very sick children to drift off into near-death and channel a message from his late-or-not-late missus. Welcome to the dead letter zone. One of the kid's Jeffrey Reardan (Robert Bailey, Jr.) delivers more than a few notes about rainbows and waterfalls (too much Discovery Channel, perhaps?), making him eligible for a frequent delivery program, although a handful of other postmen convey the phrase "Emily's Joe!" that should banish the authors to screenwriter's Hell.

Joe also manages more than a few insipid autumnal memories of his blissful life with Emily, one which shows the couple in bed, playing lovey-dovey and showcasing the reason for the film's title -- a faint birthmark of the bug near Emily's right shoulder blade.

The writers mistakenly fill the film with dialogue that time and again precludes the action, thereby weakening Dragonfly's limited shock value. Joe's moth-eaten mynah, obviously caught in the dryer a few spins over the limit, resides in the Darrow suburban Victorian homestead, despondently silent in Emily's absence. She had taught the bird to say "Honey, I'm home," in a toss-away line offered by Joe to his neighbor Miriam Belmont (Kathy Bates), a butchy lawyer who has grieved and gotten over the loss of her own lover and now is trying to get mopey Joe to move on with his life. Of course the bird's gonna talk, and you know exactly what it's going to squawk.

There are a few continuity problems, too. When someone fully clothed falls in the water and pops out, there's no reason that person's clothes should be drip dry an hour later. Honestly, I felt like I was caught in a bug zapper by the time the filmmaker dragged us to rainbow's end. If you build a film like Dragonfly, no one should come.

Directed by:
Tom Shadyac

Starring:
Kevin Costner
Joe Morton
Ron Rifkin
Linda Hunt
Susanna Thompson
Jacob Vargas
Kathy Bates

Written by:
Brandon Camp
Mike Thompson
David Seltzer

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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