Compelling ... at the end

Compelling ... at the end

For The Nashville City Paper

If Death could talk he/she would have filed abuse charges against Hollywood a long time ago. But that’s the convenient thing about death and dogs. They can’t spill the beans. Hence, we must suffer through movies like What Lies Beneath, Snow Dogs and last week’s release Dragonfly. The movie is being billed as a thriller/drama, but it delivers neither.

The tagline for Kevin Costner’s new film asks the question: “When someone you love dies, are they gone forever?” What a clever query. I wonder if that’s ever been done before? Could the premise have something to do with someone trying to reach someone living … from beyond? That tagline is the first in an endless series of ineffective devices intended to throw the viewer off the dull track. But artlessness is not the worst mistake this movie makes. It also takes a few great “unbankable” actors who’ve had a hard time getting good roles recently, and tosses them characters they won’t even be able to put on their resumes. Linda Hunt, Kathy Bates, Joe Morton and Ron Rifkin are, thankfully for them, not onscreen long enough to have done any serious damage.

Costner is Chicago ER doctor Joe Darrow. When his lovely and giving wife, Red Cross doctor Emily Darrow (Susanna Thompson), is involved in a bus accident in a remote section of Venezuela, everyone believes there are no survivors. But as no bodies are recovered, Joe can’t grieve. This, at least, spares us having to watch Costner trying to wring out a tear onscreen.

Emily has a thing for dragonflies because she has a birthmark of one on her shoulder. Quirky obsessions are the hallmark of characters born out of bad writing or who have so little time onscreen the writers simply had to resort to them in an identity crisis. Soon after Emily’s accident the children in the hospital’s oncology ward where she had worked are trying to give Joe a message they’ve received from her during their near-death experiences “while in the tunnel.”

Children, obviously, are purer and therefore make better conduits between us and the other world. They draw squirrelly symbols that could be interpreted as dragonflies, but the question of what this symbol is drags on forever. When that mystery is finally solved, the pace of the movie picks up dramatically, and the location has thankfully changed. But by then, the film is about 10 minutes away from its conclusion.

Way too much time is spent trying to set up the connection between Emily, Joe and the children. A hundred other movies come to mind about those trapped in that misty purgatory because some unfinished business keeps grabbing their gossamer hems like bramble bushes. Being a thriller, there should be more than one good “boo.” However, only one is managed. Being a drama there should be more than one engaging moment. That moment, sadly, is at the end. It’s a pretty nice moment–unless you’re a robot.  But is it worth the time getting to it?

No. Director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective; Patch Adams) doesn’t seem to have much of an idea of original characterization or plot or pacing. It’s all standard issue. Without being able to care about Costner’s loss or the fate of his wife, it leaves the audience unable to connect with any part of the story.

At the end, the verdant terrain of Venezuela offers so much more visually, and the lives of the Venezuelan Indians seem so much more interesting than the lives of Joe and Emily, I kept wishing the movie would turn into a documentary about Venezuela. And Costner, now bloated and still sporting that ‘70s haircut, looks and acts like he’s just doing a version of his real-life persona, a rootless, jaded womanizer. He no more seems like a real doctor than Ally McBeal seemed like a real lawyer. So sue me.


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