Review: Return 'Postman' to sender
January 14, 1998
Web posted at: 4:15 p.m. EST (2115 GMT)
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- I used to describe Kevin Costner as a big glass of
warm water. Before his likable, persona-defining work in
"Bull Durham," I had a hard time even remembering what he
looked like when he exited a scene. Then he'd come back
again, and I couldn't focus on him. He started working in
better films eventually, like "The Untouchables," and, of
course, the often impressive "Dances With Wolves," but
there's still something about Costner that isn't quite there
even when he's standing right in front of you.
It's tough to put my finger on exactly what that something
is, but I'm working on it. His line readings often sound
hollow to me, as if he can't generate the proper passion to
really be bothered. And his self-described "boyish
enthusiasm" (he's the only movie star to ever point out his
own aw-shucks guile during an Oscar acceptance speech) is
sometimes ladled on in lieu of truly inhabiting a character.
Something is missing all right, but, with the opening of "The
Postman," it's become terribly obvious that the wayward
element in Costner's make-up isn't his ego.
Costner also directed "The Postman," so that might explain
the portentousness with which his every word and gesture is
presented in the movie. Of course, this is Kev, so he grins
and shakes it all off when it happens ... but we still have
to sit there and watch people compliment him for over three
hours. "The Postman" is an ill-advised foray into
post-apocalyptic saviorhood for Costner, and if you don't buy
its initial simple-headed conceit, you're in for a very long
trip. Mine started when Costner "amusingly" performed some
Shakespeare with his donkey (they pretend to get in a sword
fight), and his downtrodden onscreen audience practically
lines up to touch the hem of his tattered garment for the
achievement. Aw shucks, it wasn't anything.
Mate the Road Warrior with Jimmy Stewart's patriotic Mr.
Smith and throw in a dash of Billy Jack's self-righteous
butt-kickin' and you've got yourself "The Postman." Costner
is a nameless man who wonders across a war-torn landscape
full of shattered 76 stations and 7-Elevens. Water has to be
tested for radiation before you drink it, and (for who knows
what reason) there are lions walking around.
People are split off into two basic societies, the good guys
(who like to dance to gee-tar music and watch jackasses
perform Shakespeare) and The Holnists, a Fascist warring
faction lead by General Bethlehem (Will Patton). Bethlehem
suffers from worse delusions of grandeur than Costner's
character does, forcing the good townspeople to hand over
their food and valuables while kidnapping the healthier ones
to serve in his army. He bellows out a lot of over-heated
speeches and slits the throats of randomly selected soldiers
just to prove who's the boss. (Hint: It's not Tony Danza.)
After being recruited into the Holnist army (They eat his
mule!) and escaping, Costner finds a bag of mail and a
postman's uniform on a skeleton out in the woods. This gets
him through the gates of one secluded town, and he's treated
(you guessed it) like the King of the World because mail
brings hope to the forlorn and makes people look into the
future when all seems lost.
I'm not kidding. That's actually what the movie's about.
People get misty-eyed and the music swells and, at one point,
a ratty-looking little girl begins singing "America the
Beautiful" while Costner rides away on his horse to deliver
another load of letters. It's an absolute hoot, some of the
most bizarre foolishness I've ever seen in a supposedly
serious film made by somebody who's proven that he's capable
of much, much better.
Pretty soon, The Postman is being viewed by the Holnists as
an affront to their sensibilities, and, though I found
General Bethlehem and his troops to be extremely distasteful,
at least we have that as common ground. The last time I was
at the post office, I had to stand in line for 30 minutes
while the people behind the counter moved around like they
were in "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau." It never
occurred to me to belt out a patriotic showstopper or to
shout hosannas at a letter carrier.
The movie looks good, anyway, but it's just too silly for
words. You know there's going to be a big showdown with the
Holnists, but the prelude to it (aka "the rest of the movie")
is mind-boggling in its misconception. Costner and his mule
should've put on a performance of "Much Ado About Nothing."
Besides, I couldn't help thinking that, given the proper
postal workers, a Fascist, gun-toting horde wouldn't stand a
"The Postman" has some rather barbaric violence and a little
bit of nudity. It's about as inspiring as a movie about a
vengeful meter reader. 170 minutes. Rated R.