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(2002) (Kevin Costner, Kathy Bates) (PG-13)

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Suspense/Thriller: After experiencing various seemingly supernatural encounters, a doctor begins to believe that his dead wife is trying to contact him from beyond the grave.
Joe Darrow (KEVIN COSTNER) is a doctor who's in charge of emergency room operations at Chicago Memorial hospital. When his wife and fellow doctor, Emily (SUSANNA THOMPSON), is accidentally killed while doing volunteer work for the Red Cross in Venezuela, Joe deals with that by throwing himself into his work.

The hospital administrator, Hugh Campbell (JOE MORTON), doesn't think that's a good idea, a sentiment shared by Joe's lawyer neighbor, Miriam Belmont (KATHY BATES), who knows what it's like to lose a loved one.

Nevertheless, Joe puts in long hours, during one of which he has a strange encounter with an unconscious boy, Jeffrey Reardon (ROBERT BAILEY, JR.), who he swears was calling out his name while being wheeled into the ER. Despite having been declared dead, Jeffrey later recounts seeing Joe in the room with him, as well as that of Emily who apparently had a message for Joe. Jeffrey can't recall what it is, but the odd symbols he keeps drawing - something of a squiggly cross - seem to have some connection to all of that.

As Joe tries to figure out what that means, he begins experiencing what appear to be supernatural events in his home, while another child patient, Ben (JACOB SMITH), has also drawn those same symbols and similarly claims to have seen Emily who told him to tell Joe to meet her at the "rainbow."

With everyone believing Joe to be simply experiencing denial or perhaps going crazy, he can't shake the feeling that Emily is trying to contact him from "the other side," a point reaffirmed by Sister Madeline (LINDA HUNT), a nun who previously investigated near death experiences.

From that point on, and as the supernatural events keep occurring, Joe tries to figure out whether he's losing his mind or truly is receiving signals from beyond the grave.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Ever since we first figured out we were mortal, humans have wondered what happens to our soul or conscious being -- or whatever you want to call what makes us who were are -- when we die. Religion, of course, plays a large part in such matters, but I doubt there's ever been a person who didn't question, at one time or another, what really was going to happen upon their death.

Movies have long been fascinated with that subject that's been fodder for some great and not so great films. Some explore the actual question of what happens after one dies - in comical form such as in "Heaven Can Wait" or a more serious look as occurred in "What Dreams May Come" - while others use the dearly departed in ghost form in countless haunted house flicks or in above average films such as "Ghost," "The Sixth Sense" or "Stir of Echoes."

Like some of those latter pictures, the latest such film, "Dragonfly," tries to settle for something of a happy medium between the two, although it skimps on showing much of the other side and is ultimately undermined by various mishandled and/or unconvincing elements and moments.

The premise -- of a skeptical man progressively believing that his recently deceased wife is trying to contact him from "the other side" - is decent, if not particularly original. It certainly provides for some occasional, spine-tingling moments even if they and the various "jump scenes" are telegraphed a bit too much to be as effective or "fun" as they should have been.

For instance, when a character in a supernatural-based film states that his wife taught their parrot to announce her arrival back when she was alive and still coming home, what do you think the odds are that we'll hear that bird squawking about her entrance sometime later in the story, after she's dead? At night. And in the dark.

Despite that receiving even odds from cinematic bookies, the scene is still rather effective, and director Tom Shadyac ("Patch Adams," "Liar Liar") manages to deliver a handful of other such spooky moments. The script - courtesy of screenwriters David Seltzer ("My Giant," "Shining Through") and Brandon Camp & Mike Thompson (making their collective debut) - also manages to include some decent bits of humor that serve as comic relief.

For a while, much of their supernatural mystery plot works fairly well as the protagonist tries to figure out what's really happening based on the clues he receives. Although I'm not sure if some of them are accurate enough that cartographers will figure out one of them, others are a bit too obvious for most everyone else.

It also would have behooved the production if more contradictory elements were in place to keep both the main character and viewer off balance. While some are present - such as various characters trying to explain what's occurring in scientific, emotional or medical terms - more not only would have been better but also would have made the film more engaging and intriguing. The same can be said about the amount of supernatural material.

Unfortunately, that doesn't occur. Then there's the occasionally stilted and otherwise awkward, artificial dialogue that just doesn't sound or feel right, as well as the entire ending that simply and completely unravels.

Without getting into specifics, what might have actually looked halfway decent on paper as a clever idea and plot twist comes off as ludicrous and/or hokey in execution. Most films like this one often work themselves into the proverbial corner from which they can't extract themselves, and/or include endings that undermine what was set up and building in the preceding scenes. That is the case here.

One of the film's bigger problems, however, is with lead actor Kevin Costner ("3000 Miles to Graceland," "Thirteen Days"). It wasn't often that I bought into the notion of him losing his wife. Yes, his character internalizes his grief, but it simply feels artificial, just like him playing a doctor (although he convincingly acts like he plays one on TV).

Although his transition to mystery solver remedies some of that problem, the film never really recovers from that misstep. The same holds true for where the story begins (just moments before the wife's death), as we don't get to see the couple together before the pivotal event. While that does later arrive in the form of flashbacks, it prevents Susanna Thompson ("Random Hearts," "Ghost of Mississippi") from doing much with the part or the viewer from feeling the loss and sympathizing with the main character.

The rest of the characters and resultant performances don't really amount to much beyond being just small supporting roles and/or catalysts for furthering the story. Oscar winners Kathy Bates ("American Outlaws," "Misery") and Linda Hunt ("Kindergarten Cop," "The Year of Living Dangerously") show up as the skeptical lawyer neighbor and believing nun respectively, but Hunt's role turns out to be much smaller than expected and Bates doesn't get as much screen time as she should.

Meanwhile, Joe Morton ("Bounce," "The Astronaut's Wife") appears as the token concerned/upset boss, and Robert Bailey, Jr. ("Bubble Boy," "Mission to Mars") has some brief fun in his role - as a kid who's experienced multiple near death experiences - even if his character suffers from some of the aforementioned dialogue problems.

In the end, while the film has some decent, creepy moments, the filmmakers ultimately don't do anything special or remarkable with the material and then top that off with an ending that might have had its heart in the right place and seemed like a clever idea in concept, but unfortunately falls flat on its face. "Dragonfly" thus rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed February 19, 2002 / Posted February 22, 2002

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