In “The Mothman Prophecies,” Debra Messing plays the wife of Washington Post reporter Richard Gere. After finding the perfect house in which to start their perfect life, the couple are involved in a car accident, and Messing later dies.

In the new film “Dragonfly,” Kevin Costner plays a Chicago emergency room doctor whose wife is killed in a freak avalanche-bus accident in Venezuela, where she has been on a humanitarian mission helping the Red Cross.

In “The Mothman Prophecies,” Messing leaves behind a series of drawings of a moth-like creature she saw on the road before the accident. In “Dragonfly,” Costner’s dead wife attempts to contact him by having terminally ill patients draw pictures of a mysterious symbol.

Welcome to the Dead Wives Club, a seemingly new sub-genre of film that mixes tears with the supernatural to create the ultimate date movie: a creepy chick flick. Guys love to be scared, women love to cry, what more could you ask for?

How about a decent movie. “Dragonfly” wants to be the flip-side of “Ghost,” but is overly transparent in its attempt. To make matters worse, the film is being sold as a chiller along the lines of “What Lies Beneath,” which it definitely isn’t.

“Dragonfly” is an awkward attempt by comedy director Tom Shadyac (“Liar, Liar,” “Ace Ventura”) to cross over to something more meaty, but he’s tossed a bone of a script by David Seltzer, Brandon Camp, and Mike Thompson, who have obviously never met a film they couldn’t rip-off.

Indeed, “Dragonfly” is all over the place. As a Costner fan (am I the only person who liked “For Love of the Game”?), I really wanted “Dragonfly” to take flight. It only takes about ten minutes to realize that Costner and the filmmakers are flying coach instead of first class.

Instead of trying to rise above the material, the cast seems content to just make it through a take without laughing. You can’t blame them. It’s hard to keep a straight face when Oscar winners like Costner, Kathy Bates and Linda Hunt are forced to say the most preposterous things.

As “Dragonfly” opens, emergency room doctor Joe Darrow (Costner) is mourning the death of his wife, who was not only pregnant, but whose body was never found. In order to numb his pain, Darrow throws himself into his work, taking on 20-hour shifts.

As Darrow’s marathon schedule begins to catch up with him, he suspects that his mind is playing tricks on him. He begins to receive messages from his wife through terminally ill patients, including Jeffrey Reardon (Robert Bailey Jr.), a young boy whose been close to death so many times they’re on a first name basis.

Is Darrow cracking up or is his wife Emily (Susanna Thompson) really reaching out to him from beyond the gave? He’s not sure, and neither is his superior, hospital administrator Hugh Campbell (Joe Morton), who insists that Darrow take some time off to deal with his grief.

Darrow also receives advice from next door neighbor Miriam (Kathy Bates), a lawyer who knows loss firsthand. She suggests that Darrow get on with his life or he is doomed to live in misery. If Darrow is cracking up, how does he explain the messages, or the fact that the patients at the hospital are all drawing the same mysterious symbol, Emily’s birthmark?

Darrow turns to Sister Madeline (Hunt), a nun who has been released from the hospital staff because of her near death experiences. Sister Madeline confirms Darrow’s belief, forcing him to seek out the truth. Unfortunately, thanks to a script that telegraphs ever minute plot detail, we’re way ahead of Darrow.

There are no surprises in “Dragonfly,” and the only chills are of the “boo” variety. Moments that should shivers down your spine, like when Emily pays Darrow a midnight visit, lack the visceral punch of “The Sixth Sense,” a film that “Dragonfly” clearly emulates. What’s missing is the ambivalent atmosphere that kept the audience guessing.

Even though Costner imbues the character with sad sack earnestness, we never once believe that any of his encounters are the result of an overworked mind. What would be the point of the film? The writers insult us with this tired cliché, using it to pad out a plot that’s pretty thin to begin with.

The script is frustrating because it delivers very little for our investment. It’s one thing to suspend disbelief, but in order to accept any of this, you have to slip into a coma. Emily is obviously reaching out to Darrow (when you learn why you won’t believe it), but why must she make her messages so cryptic? If someone could leave you messages from beyond the grave, don’t you think they would make them as clear and concise as possible?

If Emily actually said what was on her mind, there wouldn’t be a movie. As it stands, “Dragonfly” barely qualifies. It’s more of a series of moments, tied together by the teary-eyed performance of Costner who still looks like he’s searching for his dead wife in “Message in a Bottle.” Bates and Hunt are extremely underused, more like show ponies trotted out to make the poster look impressive.

With hardly an ounce of conviction and more than a few moments of banality, “Dragonfly” will do nothing to help Costner’s flagging career. Word of mouth will make this “Dragonfly” an endangered species.


It’s impossible to get a buzz from Costner’s Dragonfly


Kevin Costner, Kathy Bates, Linda Hunt, Joe Morton, Ron Rifkin, Susanna Thompson. Directed by Tom Shadyac. Rated PG-13. 92 minutes.


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