A- Sound B+ Extras B-
starring Kevin Costner, Joe Morton, Kathy Bates, Ron Rifkin
screenplay by David Seltzer and Brandon Camp & Mike Thompson
directed by Tom Shadyac
by Walter Chaw Emergency room sawbones Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner) loses his do-gooder wife Emily (Susanna Thompson) when she's killed in a rockslide in Venezuela. Soon he and his bald parrot believe that Emily has returned from the dead with a message about rainbows. I like Kevin Costner and his oeuvre. I find him to be a charming simpleton in the Gary Cooper mould. Until Dragonfly, his films never felt condescending to me, largely because Costner appears to be learning things at the same pace as his screenplay. His guileless wonder ('Can you believe we did this to the Indians? Holy smokes!') sits well with me and makes him peculiarly suited to play the traditional American hero: good-looking, witless, and dull as dishwater. Casting Costner as a doctor is a mistake: the other person he played who had an advanced degree was New Orleans DA Jim Garrison in Oliver Stone's JFK, and that character was clearly insane. Costner just doesn't have the spark of erudition necessary to convince as a serious individual with letters after his name (not unless those letters are LHP), and his performance in Dragonfly is unconvincing, joyless, and scattershot.
The greatest miscalculation of Dragonfly, however, is not in Costner's miscasting, nor Kathy Bates's umpteenth no-nonsense lesbian mother figure, nor an underwritten trio of barfly pals endlessly toasting like animatronic Algonquians, nor direction that matches a screenplay so insipid, implausible, and flat that the sole shock of the film is the realization that it only runs 105 minutes. No, the greatest miscalculation of Dragonfly is its very choice of director. In addition to shameless hack Tom Shadyac's gross inability to shoot informative coverage or a simple dialogue exchange (blame, too, editor Don Zimmerman), he again uses cancer-stricken children as shorthand messengers of supernatural uplift. Between this and his Patch Adams, Shadyac demonstrates that he knows nothing of doctors and even less of shame. It's impossible to not be moved by bald moppets in terminal care--it's deeply unpleasant to take advantage of those children for their innate power as images.
Dragonfly's characters are stock, its scares are telegraphed (the script by committee mistakes "eye-rolling" for "tight"), and before it's done, it dips into a shocking Mead-era noble savage syndrome complicated by more conventional exploitations of race and illness. Universal Pictures passed out an edict forbidding reviewing press from revealing nearly any of the humdrum "twists" of the film, which is actually something of a relief--I'd just as soon not waste time picking apart its desperate machinations. Dragonfly, for all its intimations of totemic spirituality and faux religiosity (going so far as to provide Linda Hunt, Dragonfly's third Oscar-winner, a walk-on as a homuncular nun), is ultimately a vapid shuck-and-jive with all the depth of a traveling medicine show. To paraphrase a good Costner film, Dragonfly has a million-dollar cast, but I have a good idea about its ten-cent head. Originally published: February 22, 2002.
Dragonfly arrives on DVD in a handsome presentation from Universal. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (a fullscreen version is being sold separately) has a filmlike quality, though contrast is a little wanting. Nevertheless, a smooth image has been achieved without the overuse of edge-enhancement. I found the accompanying Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes a tad cloudy in the music department and to have less intense bass than some scenes warrant, but the sound has nice atmosphere and a parrot attack (chapter 10) really takes advantage of the discrete surrounds. Tom Shadyac contributes a feature-length commentary that is fascinating for the number of times he says, "This is a scene I'd like to have back"--it's his first drama, and evidently he wishes he could do a few things over. So do I.
Though not one of Universal's Collector's or Ultimate Editions, the disc includes quite a many additional special features, starting with the 13-minute "Spotlight on Location," which concentrates, after regurgitating the plot for us, on the climactic Venezuela sequence; there is an interesting outtake herein of Costner commandeering a scene from Shadyac, probably for the better, as Shadyac is too busy thumbs-upping and high-fiving the tribal extras to give them actual direction. A 12-minute block of deleted scenes shows a lot of redundant material, while "best-selling author Betty Eadie" recalls her own near-death experience in a 6-minute featurette. (Conveniently, her anecdote lends itself to cutting away to clips from Dragonfly.) A trailer, production notes, and cast and director bios/filmos for Dragonfly, some ROM-exclusive ephemera, plus trailers and DVD previews for The Family Man, Apollo 13, Patch Adams, and K-Pax round out the disc. Originally published: July 25, 2002.