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Zombie Sees Dead People



Dragonfly (PG-13)
Universal Pictures

In Dragonfly, Kevin Costner sees, or rather, hears messages from dead people and walks around like a lead-footed zombie. He's playing Dr. Joe Darrow, a high-powered Chicago emergency room doctor whose beautiful, pregnant wife Emily (Susanna Thompson) has recently been killed in a South American landslide. Also a physician, Emily flew off to Venezuela to minister to poor kids, ostensibly in an emergency situation, but still had the time to pose next to a waterfall, looking radiant and relaxed -- a key element in this agonizingly plodding, convoluted story.

As Joe is trying to adjust to Emily's absence, messages from her keep popping out of the mouths of patients experiencing near death, urging him to come to "the rainbow." Naturally, Joe thinks he's crazy, as does his homespun next-door neighbor, a lesbian lawyer played by Kathy Bates, but the messages keep coming until he finally discovers where it is he's supposed to go.

All of this, plus a few throwaway scenes of Joe and his fashionable friends sipping wine or drinking beer, engaging in inane conversation and planning a white-water rafting trip, add up to two hours of buildup for the movie's climax and Costner's single display of emotion. I won't reveal what finally makes him loosen up, but suffice it to say that the buildup to the film's central revelation is nauseatingly overblown and utterly predictable.

Dragonfly belongs to the recent genre of films that are part thriller, part psychological exploration and part glorification of the attractive lifestyles of rich, powerful, middle-aged white guys with extraordinarily beautiful wives (see: Mothman Prophecies, What Lies Beneath). And because it is directed by the king of frothy schlock designed to draw quick tears, Tom Shadyac (Patch Adams), it shamefully exploits the notion of spiritual depravity and deliverance from a life of the mind to a life of the heart -- a serious topic that deserves serious attention and creative treatment, not this knock-'em-over-the-head approach.

What's most mystifying and most worthy of reproach is Costner's wooden performance. At middle age, he has perfected the beefy-browed scowl, his thinning hair slightly ruffled, his big torso accented by a paunch, his eyes never quite meeting anyone else's, suggesting what? That he is alienated? Depressed? Disdainful? What comes across is boredom, not exactly what we're looking for in a leading man.

The best performance in this clunker comes from a balding blue parrot, beloved pet of Emily. When it goes nuts one night, whacking into pots and pans and collapsing in a seizure on the kitchen floor, we are temporarily awakened from our stupor. Aside from that, admiring the woodwork and the majestic dcor in the homes of Joe's rich friends is about all that keeps us occupied in this messy homage to the power of love to overcome, yes, death itself.

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