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Published: Friday, 2/22/2002

Supernatural ‘Dragonfly' is a sappy love story

Who isn't fascinated with the terrible career of Kevin Costner? It's a celebrity rubbernecker's dream, his choice of films being almost always more interesting than the movies themselves, including his latest, a supernatural love story called Dragonfly.

He plays a Chicago triage doctor, Joe Darrow, whose wife, Emily, dies in a bus accident in Venezuela when she goes to work for the Red Cross. Weeks later, he starts seeing dragonflies (his wife's personal totem) everywhere.

Joe is convinced Emily is trying to communicate with him. Pretty soon, the children Emily once treated in a hospital oncology ward are drawing weird wiggly crosses and moaning to Joe that Emily wants to talk to him. Then the crosses turn up on Joe's windowpanes. Never mind that the eventual explanation of this symbol is so botched that it needs its own explanation. There's something repellent about using the appearance of children with cancer to achieve a creepy effect. But then, director Tom Shadyac also used sick kids to gain cheap sympathy in his hit Patch Adams.

On top of this, Shadyac has no touch with misdirection. Because every line of dialogue delivers some momentous bit of information, you know where Dragonfly is headed before it turns every corner. The film is also shaped in the likeness of The Sixth Sense and The Others - it's a ghost story with more atmosphere than special effects - but entire scenes and the visual palate of the film feel lifted from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And as for the ghost story, the pieces of Joe's puzzle are so jagged, they never connect in any satisfying way.

Example: Joe has a parrot that doesn't talk. But one night in bed, Joe hears the parrot, Big Bird, say “I'm home.” Spooky, right? Maybe, until Joe goes to the kitchen and the parrot is trying to kill itself and Joe runs around the room screaming “Big Bird, no!” I can not tell you why this was happening. It was not explained, but suffice to say, tension evaporated.

There is a film in here about learning to grieve and about belief in the afterlife, but it all comes down to this: Is Joe nuts? More likely, you'll be asking yourself: What is Kevin Costner thinking? Why won't he go away? He's like a guy who graduated from high school three years ago but still wants to hang out with the seniors.

In the late 1980s, he was Hollywood's next Gary Cooper, and he continues to appear in the occasional sleeper: A Perfect World, Tin Cup, Thirteen Days.

But then there's that string of duds, creative or otherwise, you can't get past: Waterworld, The Postman, For the Love of the Game. I could go on, but everyone knows: A new Costner picture these days is greeted with all the pomp and circumstance of a field of narcoleptic crickets.

A movie review shouldn't be a career review, but Dragonfly is a cry for help. It's a ghost of a movie. Costner delivers every line in a harsh, urgent rasp that's so overdone he makes nothing sound urgent. He sounds hoarse within 20 minutes. And also, there are no characters here who exist to do anything other than teach Joe a life lesson. In fact, everything in this film exists for effect. Why does Emily's ghost leave all those symbols? If her message is so important, why doesn't she write it on Joe's windowpanes, instead of leaving opaque clues? Is she just being creepy?

And that dialogue. In a flashback, Joe argues with Emily about going to work for the Red Cross when she's six months pregnant. She screams that she must - this is about sticking with the values they swore to uphold.

He shouts, “It was na ve!”

She shouts, “Our values?”

The last 15 minutes of Dragonfly are so bizarre and inept, I could feel the people sitting beside me at the screening switch from bored observers to rabid, full-fledged hecklers. With good reason: One minute Costner is in Chicago. The next he's leaping off a cliff into whitewater rapids. The next he's surrounded by a Venezuelan tribe and pondering how a small child who lives among them “can possibly survive here.” The woman at my right muttered, “How you think those people survived, you dumb, ignorant - .'' Only she added a four-letter word and couldn't stop laughing.



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