- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

If a movie intends to hustle self-pity to an insufferable extent, you're likely to find Kevin Costner as the leading man.
In "Dragonfly," not having purged the bereavements of "Message in a Bottle," Mr. Costner once again is suffering from the loss of a beloved spouse. As Joe Darrow, a supervising E.R. physician, Mr. Costner takes out his grief by getting testy with staff members and a glowering administrator named Hugh Campbell (Joe Morton in a quintessential thankless role).
We're allowed to share the spouse in flashback. Impersonated by Susanna Thompson, a dream girl with wavy tresses, the missing and presumed dead wife is a pediatric oncologist, Emily Darrow, who is employed at the same hospital. She has been lost while volunteering with a Red Cross mission to the Yanomani Indians in remotest Venezuela. Dr. Darrow was also nearing full term with her first child while in the field. She and fellow bus passengers were victimized when a storm washed the vehicle down a mountain and buried it in a river.
Emily had a faint birthmark that could be mistaken for the silhouette of a dragonfly. Similar designs, in crisscross patterns that vary from diagonal to wavily cruciform, begin to haunt Dr. Joe as he gloomily makes his rounds or returns to domestic solitude, where only a parrot and heroically helpful next-door neighbor, Miriam Belmont (Kathy Bates with an ambiguous butch haircut), are likely to provide distraction.
Miriam does all sorts of favors for the poor widower, despite being credited with a profession of her own (the law) and woes of her own (the loss of someone named Hannah, precise relationship unclarified). At one point Joe is even so self-absorbed that he instructs Miriam, "Watch the bird for me." Uttered while striding out the door in a perhaps forgivable supernatural trance, this request graces the movie with a supremely dopey exit line. A prop version of said bird also gets a hilarious swoon to conclude a sequence in which the ghost of Emily supposedly pays a call and provokes a frenzy in the lonely pet.
To be fair, the best scenes in the movie reflect a certain proficiency in hospital surroundings. Director Tom Shadyac gets exceptional bit performances from a pair of juvenile actors, Robert Bailey Jr. and Jacob Smith, cast as patients who cue Mr. Costner to his wife's beckoning call. These encounters are calculated for a stillness and expectancy that are effective, largely because the boys prove so distinctive at projecting wise-beyond-their-years intimations. During this stage the screenplay is coyly balanced to keep one foot in portentous mystification and the other in skeptical reality. Each time a spooky manifestation is depicted, a deflating "rational" explanation will contradict it.
Eventually, this sort of ambiguity won't get the sappy job done, so Mr. Costner makes an odyssey of his own to Venezuela (doubled by locations on Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands), miraculously surviving episodes that document a suicidal leap into the jaws of a watery and certain death. Enjoying a free pass where mortality is concerned, Dr. Joe finally encounters the tribe that can satisfy his need for answers to the Emily mystery.
This encounter also brings Mr. Costner back to the pretext of "Dances With Wolves" in certain awkward respects. If "Dragonfly" catches on with the pathetically credulous public it seems to be soliciting, Mr. Costner can play a kind of Dr. Tarzan in the sequel. Meanwhile, his "healing process" remains weirdly trifling when compared with characters calculated to get lost in the background, notably the admirable Miriam and the oncology ward kids. Is it possible that the filmmakers have missed a few bets while humoring a leading man whose sorrowful vanities should be resisted? For his sake as well as ours.

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