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by: Michael Dequina

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

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