Movie Information

Genre: Fantasy Thriller
Director: Tom Shadyac
Starring: Kevin Costner, Joe Morton, Ron Rifkin, Linda Hunt, Kathy Bates, Sussana Thompson
Rated: PG-13

No, it’s not very good. It’s frequently pretty cheesy. The screenplay has some of the worst — and most transparent — writing imaginable. Kevin Costner continues to display the kind of career sense that once condemned actors like Bela Lugosi and John Carradine to poverty-row movies (just exactly what keeps Costner from ending up in exploitation horror schlock is more mysterious than anything in Dragonfly). However, the movie’s not quite the unmitigated disaster it’s been painted as … not quite. Some sequences in Dragonfly are effectively chilling. For that matter, after a slow and not very effective opening, the movie settles into a middle section that works well enough to hold your attention, before falling apart in a sea of dubious mysticism and worse writing by the end. The sub-Sixth Sense storyline is never more than adequate. When Dr. Joe Darrow’s (Costner) pregnant wife (also a doctor), Emily (Sussana Thompson), apparently (apparently being a key word) expires in a bus accident while on a humanitarian mission in Venezuela, Joe starts receiving messages through patients who have near-death experiences. He becomes convinced that his wife is trying to contact him from beyond the grave. Naturally, everyone he comes into contact with thinks he’s losing his mind, but Joe becomes increasingly convinced that she is really trying to get in touch with him. As a premise, this could have gone two ways: either into the realm of chills or into the area of mystical philosophizing. The problem with Dragonfly — apart from some truly dreadful dialogue — is that it tries to do both, ultimately undercutting its chills and making hash out of its marginal accomplishments in that area. The script ought to be held up to students of screenwriting as an example of everything the writer ought not do. It gives us brazenly expository writing that would shame a college freshman, not to mention attempts at foreshadowing that would more correctly be called telegraphed punches. Setting up Joe as the primary caregiver for his wife’s improbably shabby Hyacinth Macaw is one thing. Feeding us the information that this bedraggled budgie would only talk to Emily — and had been taught to say “Hello, honey, I’m home” whenever Emily came in — is something else again. Does anyone doubt for a moment that this isn’t going to come back at us in an attempt at a scare a little further down the road? Worse, once the script gets an idea in its head, it clings to it more tenaciously than a rat terrier with a rodent. No one — and I mean no one — who knew Emily and meets up with Joe after the fact doesn’t say, “Emily’s Joe?” This becomes so laughable that when, late in the film, Joe flashes a snapshot of his seemingly sainted wife at some Venezuelan Indians, you fully expect one of them to ask, “Are you Emily’s Joe?” Beyond that, the script does little or nothing to make it clear just what the altruistic Emily and the mundane Joe had in common, nor does it adequately explain just why a pregnant woman would put herself and her child at risk by administering to victims of an uprising in a war-torn country. Director Tom Shadyac does a workmanlike job whenever the script allows, but there’s not much anyone could do with most of the material. By the time the film arrives at its frighteningly obvious, “uplifting” climax, Dragonfly has nearly turned into its own subject — a near-death experience.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

Leave a Reply