Even though the $180 million 1995 sci-fi adventure WATERWORLD was
dismissed by critics and audiences alike, producer/star/11th-hour
"director" Kevin Costner managed to emerge from the wreckage unscathed,
with most of the blame and discredit going to the film's true helmer, Kevin
Reynolds. Costner won't be getting away so easily this time--his new
sci-fi epic, THE POSTMAN, is even more disastrous, and no one is to blame
but Costner himself, who also directed.
Granted, a little slack must be cut for THE POSTMAN, which comes to the
theatres with three strikes against it. First of all, it is Costner's
first directorial effort since his popular, Oscar-winning 1990 debut,
DANCES WITH WOLVES. Second, the film's title is also associated with a
dearly beloved recent film, the excellent 1995 Italian import IL POSTINO.
Third, the film's postapocalyptic setting is more than a little similar to
that of WATERWORLD--and that's not exactly a film audiences want to be
reminded of, to say the least.
But Costner, is, after all, an Academy Award-winning director, and one
would think he could come up with something decent--or, at the very least,
coherent. But even the modest hopes of the latter are dashed almost
immediately with the expository opening narration, which apparently
explains the second American Civil War that led to the country's demise. I
say "apparently" because I could not make sense of any of it--exactly what
happened and how it led to America becoming a wasteland in the year 2013.
It would help if Costner or screenwriters Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland
(working from the novel by David Brin) threw in more expository dialogue
along the way to clarify things. No such luck. Once the narration ends,
pity the poor viewer who could not digest it... which is just about everyone.
Shortly after that, we are introduced to Costner's nameless drifter, who,
about an hour into this ridiculously long (170 minutes) film, lends the
film its name. After escaping a military training camp held by the evil
General Bethlehem (Will Patton, who is actually quite good), who rules the
anarchic American Northwest with an iron fist, the drifter finds an
abandoned mail truck and enters a small Oregon town under the guise of a
postman. All he wants is a couple nights worth of food and lodging, but in
pretending to be an official of "the restored United States of America," he
becomes the living embodiment of hope for the oppressed people. Soon he
finds himself with numerous disciples who revivethe former grand American
tradition of... mail delivery, and, in turn, bringing to life the hopes of
a restored nation--which, of course, does not sit well with General Bethlehem.
I do not know what is more laughable--the barebones plot synopsis or its
actual execution. The story is ridiculous, but it would have appeared at
the very least less so if Costner did not play everything with such a
straight face. He is apparently trying to make a Profound Statement about
war and American society, but it is impossible to take anything seriously.
Consider the horrendous dialogue: for example, Roth and Helgeland's idea of
witty romantic repartee is having the Postman often say "You're really
weird!" to a young wife (Olivia Williams) who wants to bear his child.
Consider this most heavyhanded, idiotically symbolic plot development: the
woman bears the Postman's daughter, who is named--yes--Hope (get it???).
Most of all, consider the most ludicrously preachy moment of the film, this
most unintentionally hilarious scene that occurs near the end: The Postman
stops a follower from killing a man, saying, "There will only be peace!"
So far, not too bad, but then the masses of people surrounding him look at
each other, nod, and say, "Yeah." The audience rolls in the aisles (that
is, provided they are still awake); the last trace of dramatic credibility
flies out the window.
The heart of THE POSTMAN's problems is the title character himself. We
are supposed to be inspired by the Postman and the society he has
inadvertently created, but he is such an unsympathetic, self-serving
character that we never once believe that he could attract a single
follower, let alone hordes. And the lies he concocts are so ludicrous, not
to mention poorly delivered, that it's a wonder how anyone believes any of
it. He only seems to grasp the importance of his actions and influence
with about thirty minutes to go, but this "changed" Postman comes off as a
satirical, reverse stereotype of the American postal worker--one who
denounces all violence, urging everyone to live in peace.
Usually when I think a movie is bad, I at least concede that it may be
worth the while of loyal fans of the star or director. Not so with THE
POSTMAN. Die-hard Kevin Costner fans may find themselves changing their
mind after seeing this overlong, lumbering mess, a miserable failure in
just about every respect.