Dragonfly
     

             Ever since
The Sixth Sense made barrels of money, studios and
     filmmakers have tried to duplicate its success with supernatural-themed
     dramas. Some have succeeded, others have failed. The makers of
Dragonfly        
      have sort of landed in between; the film is certainly not a fiasco, but
     neither is it a masterpiece. It's a well-made, mostly entertaining flick,
     provided you check your cynicism at the theater's door.

             Kevin Costner stars as Joe Darrow, an arrogant emergency room
     doctor coping with the recent death of his wife Emily. She (portrayed in
     flashbacks with verve by Susanna Thompson) was also a doctor who had
     gone to South America to care for the indigenous population. Caught
     between warring rivals, she was forced to flee and the bus carrying her
     and other refugees was stranded on a treacherous mountain road and then
     swept into a river by a landslide. Because there was no body, Joe doesn't
     have a sense of closure. Then strange things start to happen -- things
     this man of science cannot explain. This is where an audience member
     is either going to give in and go with the film or fight it. (At the
     screening I attended, more than a few reacted to much of the mysterious
     elements with derisive laughter. Those will be the critics who have written
     outright pans of the film.)

             I suppose if one doesn't accept the premise that people have souls,
     one might not respond well to this film. But since the USA has suffered a
     collective tragedy in the fall of 2001, films like
Dragonfly offer an odd
     solace in a weird sort of way. Indeed, Costner's character would fit that
     bill. At the beginning of the film, he rejects the notion that there's an
     afterlife. Only when circumstances hit close to home (as it were) does
     he begin to entertain the notion that there may be more to life than
     just this world. What's a frustrating is that the screenplay (credited to
     David Seltzer and Brandon Camp & Mike Thompson) sort of bobbles
     the idea. Someone clearly felt the need to explain things to the audience
     via the character of Sister Madeline (Oscar-winner Linda Hunt), a nun
     whose research on the near-death experiences of children has created
     problems for her. The expository tenor of her scenes is a bit too much
     and detracts from the main story arc.

             Director Tom Shadyac has previously made his name on Jim Carrey
     vehicles (
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar), the Eddie Murphy
       Nutty Professor films and the execrable Patch Adams. With Dragonfly,
     he is attempting to move away from outlandish comedy and he succeeds
     to some degree. There are a few genuine chills in his approach to the
     material, but there are also a few missteps. Shadyac manages to elicit
     a modest starring performance from Costner, but the actor's over-earnest
     approach threatens to derail the film at the end. With the exception
     of
The Bodyguard, where his serious demeanor worked for the character,
      Costner appears to have lost the joy of acting that he so clearly
      demonstrated in his star-making turn in Silverado. Whether it's the result
      of winning an Oscar for directing Dances With Wolves or merely taking
     himself a bit too seriously, he hasn't really clicked on screen in almost
     a decade. In the early scenes in this film, Costner does well in capturing
     the god-like personality of a doctor, but as those around him question his
     sanity, Costner's Joe Darrow remains too steadfast and arrogant, which
     in turn keeps the audience at bay.

             The supporting cast is a mixed bag, with Kathy Bates saddled with
     the role of Darrow's next-door neighbor, a lesbian lawyer who is more plot
     device than three-dimensional person. The aforementioned Linda Hunt
     does what she can with her part, and such fine actors as Ron Rifkin,
     Matt Craven, Lisa Banes and Jay Thomas are rather wasted in secondary
     roles. Although only seen in flashback, Susanna Thompson projects a
     lovely unique quality that makes it believable that Joe would obsess
     over losing her.

             
Dragonfly, which ends on a note of uplift that is both predictable
     and inevitable, is a grab bag of ideas that hasn't quite been formulated
     into a satisfying whole. Dean Semler's terrific cinematography and Don
     Zimmerman's expert editing help to patch over some of the defects in
     the script, but John Debney's overwrought musical score calls too much
     attention to itself.


                                     Rating:               B-
                                     MPAA Rating:      PG-13
                                     Running Time:     97 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.