February 28, 2002

Get Out The Bug Spray

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It’s been a while since Kevin Costner starred in a good movie. And while the actor is certainly due for a major comeback, the film Dragonfly is not it.

When Dr. Joe Darrow’s (Kevin Costner) wife Emily (Susanna Thompson) is killed in a bus accident while she is giving medical aid to people in Venezuela, he buries himself in his own medical work. That is, until he starts getting signs from his dead wife.

Joe realizes that Emily’s former patients in the pediatric oncology ward are all drawing the same picture of a squiggly crucifix after they claim they have spoken to his wife when they have near-death experiences. They say that Emily told them that they needed to show this symbol to Joe. Emily also uses some classic ghost scare-tactics to try to get the attention of her husband (ie, falling objects, scary mirror reflections, sending a dragonfly to visit Joe, etc.).

Unfortunately, no other adult will believe Joe. His friends act as a human representation of an analysis of communication with the dead. His lawyer friend asks for proof, his medical friends offer scientific explanations for the encounters that the children claim to have had with his wife, and his college friends talk about her as though she is still alive. He is left with no other choice than to figure out the meaning behind her messages by himself and prove that he is not crazy.

This script leaves viewers with many questions. As a supposedly bright man, Costner’s character moves at the speed of a Special Olympic hurdler as he tries to decode the messages that his wife is sending to him. This process is not scary, it does not build suspense — it’s just boring. Furthermore, it is extremely frustrating how Emily sends such a cryptic message, when it is made abundantly clear that she spoke to the children using words. They know to speak with Joe, she was able to communicate those words, so why doesn’t she just say what she meant!

Also, it seems that Joe has no realistic relationship with anyone on earth. While it is clear that Emily is dead, was Joe ever really alive in the first place? Perhaps this is done to make his relationship with Emily look better by comparison. Unfortunately, his relationship with her is shown for less than five minutes, during which chemistry is not effectively established between the actors. Thus, the only interactions Costner has, which is with secondary characters, are contrived and unconvincing.

As Darrow’s lesbianic law professor neighbor, Kathy Bates, like every other secondary character in this movie, simply fills a role. She, too, lost her partner. As a result, she can supposedly relate to Joe in this respect. She also serves to represent the legal community in terms of believing in encounters with dead people. Like Joe’s other friends, she only serves a certain purpose, and despite Bates’ extensive talents as an actress, she was not able to expand beyond her one-dimensional role.

The other characters are even worse. They seem to have no emotional connection with Costner’s character and seem as though they are only present to offer the perspective of their said professions. In addition, after their scenes, it seems as though they disappear and are forgotten about. Their scenes could easily be cut without notice.

A religious perspective is also offered by Sister Madeline (Linda Hunt of Kindergarten Cop), an elderly nun who has become an expert on experiences that children have when they are near-death. While it is unclear under what genre this film falls, if it is supposed to be a horror movie, Linda Hunt does the job. Next to her, dead people are looking pretty good.

Costner’s character is the only dynamic one in the movie. He is the hero, and everything centers around him. With strong acting and a strong script, this could make an incredible movie. Unfortunately, this script has neither of these.

Director Tom Shadyac (Patch Adams) seems to have a thing for pediatric cancer patients. However, while Patch Adams presented them from a much more sensitive perspective, this film does not. When one of the patient’s heart stops, he suddenly sits up and his eyes bug out. While this is supposed to be scary, it just seems strange. It seems as though the director had no other way to make his script scary, so he decided to use the cancer patient. That’s just not right.

Overall, this film is entirely lacking of originality. The “I see dead people” thing has already been done to death, and if it hadn’t been, I think that this film was already released a month ago under the title The Mothman Prophesies.

Archived article by Sara Katz