Director: Tom Shadyac
Cast: Kevin Costner, Susanna Thompson, Kathy Bates, Joe Morton, Linda Hunt, Ron Rifkin
MPAA Rating: (for thematic material and mild sensuality)
Running Time: 1:43
Release Date: 2/22/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
Watching Dragonfly is like watching a student give a class presentation where the material he/she has covered obviously interested him/her, but the presentation itself seems to have put together overnight and with as little research as possible. Here’s a picture that deals with big concepts but assumes that simply presenting big concepts is good enough to make a movie interesting. The movie is all about plotting, and most of it is red herring material. Yes, this is yet another movie that gives us a surprise, twist ending that’s supposed to turn everything we’ve seen before it upside-down, but the final twist is so predictable, so obvious from the moment a piece of key information is given within ten minutes of the movie, that everything that comes after it is only there to keep us off the trail. When done well, this kind of device can work, but with material as heavy-handed and storytelling as clumsy as in Dragonfly, it all just becomes tedious.
Joe Darrow’s (Kevin Costner) pregnant wife Emily (Susanna Thompson), a Red Cross worker, has recently died in a rockslide in a remote part of Venezuela. Months later, Joe does not like to talk about Emily, returns to the hospital to work, and begins to act strangely, refusing to treat an attempted suicide patient. Joe’s boss Hugh Campbell (Joe Morton), a hospital administrator, recommends that Joe take some time off, but he passive-aggressively refuses, instead taking the time to look in on Emily patients in the oncology ward. Strange things are happening at home as well. Joe is seeing dragonflies all over. On its own that doesn’t seem too important, but Joe tells his neighbor Mrs. Belmont (Kathy Bates) that the dragonfly was Emily’s favorite animal--she even had a birthmark that resembled one. Soon, the surviving patients in oncology tell Joe of seeing Emily and hearing her voice trying to get a message to him. So what does it mean? Is Joe just mentally attaching everyday things and events with his wife and it’s all coincidence, or is Emily trying to reach out to Joe from the beyond?
The movie is part supernatural thriller, part cloying melodrama. Neither work for good reason. There are a few scare moments coming from the concept of Emily affecting things from beyond. Now, here’s a bit of logic that makes the scare tactics useless: Why should we be scared of a wife trying to communicate something to her husband? There’s something spiritual and sweet about that. And if it isn’t for real and Joe is crazy, what’s frightening about that? There’s more sadness and longing to that end. For some reason, though, director Tom Shadyac tries to use any and all opportunity to make the audience jump. Threatening camera angles and cliché horror music fill the scene, yet it’s empty suspense. The story itself is related mostly through extended and redundant dialogue scenes where Joe learns something from someone only to learn it later from someone else. There are lots of metaphysical ponderings--none of them particularly striking--but they are all there to cloud the inevitable conclusion, giving us multiple, incomplete possibilities for Emily’s message.
Perhaps the biggest flaw is the screenplay by David Seltzer, Brandon Camp, and Mike Thompson, which is too lackadaisical about characterization to get us caring about any of these people. What makes Joe unique or worth watching beyond being the key piece of this plot? Kevin Costner, infamous for a running series of bad career moves, has chosen yet another. The movie relies on him to bring something to it, but unfortunately he’s used best when the material is supporting him, not vice versa. What kind of clear relationship can be developed through clumsy flashback sequences? As potent as the central theme can be, no time is taken to establish this couple, so there’s no emotional foundation to effectively portray the motif. The supporting cast is a faceless entity (in that they are given nothing to make them standout), existing only serve the plot and sadly containing the great Kathy Bates.
Dragonfly is, mistakenly, all about the payoff. It’s somewhat pleasant, reiterating just how silly the idea of making this material scary is. There may be a little suspicion about the finale throughout, but only because the movie is unsure of what it’s about for so long. So when the movie finally decides on its course of action, we return the favor by simply not caring.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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