A scene from 'Dragonfly'
Courtesy Photo
**1/2 stars 105 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, February 22, 2002
Directed by Tom Shadyac

Starring Kevin Costner, Kathy Bates, Susanna Thompson, Joe Morton, Ron Rifkin, Linda Hunt, Jacob Vargas, Liza Weil, Jay Thomas


The passable supernatural eerieness of this picture won't lose any impact on the small screen. But if the dead wife supernatural thriller thing appeals to you, try the superb and grossly under-seen "Waking the Dead" instead.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 07.30.2002


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Costner's beyond-the-grave chiller 'Dragonfly' runs risk of tipping its hand too early to maintain surprises

By Rob Blackwelder

"This could be your 'Sixth Sense,'" someone probably told Kevin Costner when pitching him the concept for the beyond-the-grave chiller "Dragonfly" -- "could" being the operative word. Just how spine-tingling this movie seems will depend entirely on how attune you are to its sometimes heavy-handed foreshadowing.

It wouldn't be fair to give away any of the clues to the movie's conclusion in this review because while, in retrospect, the equation is as simple as 2 + 2, for the better part of the film the formula is obscured by allusionary symbolism that is sometimes quite effective and other times downright obtuse. Figure it out when the director wants you to -- a few minutes before the end, of course -- and you'll get those tingles. Catch on too early to the big red flags and you'll have nothing to do but note the movie's many other shortcomings.

Costner plays Dr. Joe Darrow, an emergency room surgeon whose life is turned upside-down when his saintly pediatrician wife (Susanna Thompson from TV's "Once and Again") is killed in a bus accident while on a humanitarian mission in the jungles of Venezuela.

Working himself to exhaustion as a form of denial, when he's not delivering premature babies from the wombs of dead car-crash victims, he starts visiting the children in his wife's former cancer ward -- where strange near-death experiences begin soon after her memorial service (the body was never found). One of her favorite patients flatlines on the operating table and miraculously revives after being declared dead. He comes back compulsively drawing squiggly crosses and able to recognize Joe, whom he's never met. The kids says the cross is a message from Joe's wife on the other side. Yikes.

Joe tries to shake it off, but after a new patient who'd never even met the dead doc reports a similar comatose encounter, the signs get stronger. Dragonflies -- a bug with which his beloved felt a spirit-animal connection -- start banging against the windows of his spooky old house (with its unreliable lamps and looming, shadowy trees). In the movie's best goosebump scene, he packs up her belongings, then they unpack themselves while he's out of the room.

All such moments are handled in an elementary fashion by director Tom Shadyac, who is attempting a big step away from the sophomoric humor of "Ace Ventura," "The Nutty Professor" and "Liar, Liar." But elementary doesn't necessarily mean ineffective. "Dragonfly" has a good hook in discovering this untapped niche within the twisty-plot ghost story genre, and while Shadyac depends too heavily on the film's jump-inducing score as a cattle prod to push the chills, the fact is the chills are there. Joe is tangibility haunted, and haunted by more than just bed-ridden kids whispering ominously about out-of-body encounters.

Costner makes an adequate grieving husband, although his only notable personality trait outside of being generally tormented is his resulting spiritual cynicism. Lashing out at dubious hospital administrators who are concerned he's losing it and can't handle his life-saving duties, he says, "I don't know why we try so hard to save them if they've got someplace better to go."

Unfortunately, that's about as good as the dialogue gets in this flick. Most of it is closer to the reply when Joe asks a near-death expert if she thinks he's nuts: "As nuts as Christopher Columbus thinking there was another side of the Earth." Clunk, clunk.

Other problems arise from the script being far too obvious in lining up its ducks for plot developments much later in the story, as when Joe makes conspicuous mention of his wife's fondness for the family parrot. "She even taught it to announce her arrival when she came home," he says. Hard to imagine what might come of that, huh? Yet when the statement bears its inevitable fruit, Shadyac still gets rudimentary but persuasively creepy tension out of the scene.

As the climax draws near, "Dragonfly" becomes even more blunt as the apparent ghost of Joe's wife develops an affinity for cartography, revealing one of the film's central clues to be both annoyingly arbitrary and ludicrously literal. But if you're paying attention, even without this tip off you should be several steps ahead of our hero by this time.

Even as the picture goes far, far out of its way for its twisty last act, Shadyac has a good enough grip on the eerie ambiance that he can maintain it, even during scenes outdoors in bright daylight, which is more than can be said for most supernatural thrillers. But then there's that cheaply philosophical, sentimental voice-over epilogue so redundant it unintentionally refocuses attention on all the movie's weaker points just before the credits roll.

Spine-tingling it may be, but "The Sixth Sense" it's not.


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