The Postman

on December 25, 1997 by Christine James
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   What should have been a rousing ode to the human spirit is instead a clumsy, poorly-arced fumble--and a three-hour one at that. Set in the year 2013, the post-apocalyptic tale finds the Earth ravaged by war, plague and climatic catastrophe. The planet itself is finally beginning to recover, but the survivors are forced to live in isolated, primitive villages, not daring to venture outside for fear of Shakespeare-quoting despot General Bethlehem (Will Patton) and his army of brutish warriors.
   But when a drifter (Kevin Costner) poses as a postman to gain food and shelter, his con inadvertently ignites hope in the oppressed populace. Believing him to have been sent by a restored government, the people hold the Postman up as a savior. When word of this reaches Bethlehem, he fears the end of his reign and begins a murderous rampage in an attempt to stamp out the (non-existent) government's efforts.
   Unfortunately, Patton's rendering of the homicidal pseudo-intellectual Bethlehem is more laughable than intimidating, severely undercutting tension and believability. Still, we want to see the American Way triumph over the tyrant, but the progress made against him keeps backsliding to the point where the momentum is completely shot. Meanwhile, Bethlehem's wanton killing becomes desensitizing, and a romance between the Postman and a feisty village woman (Olivia Williams) is charmless, contrived and extraneous.
   "The Postman" is filled with hollow dialogue, false moments and awkward segueways, capped by a bizarre, abrupt climax that's cliche in some ways and head-shakingly puzzling in others. Stamp this one "Return to Sender." Starring Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Larenz Tate and Olivia Williams. Directed by Kevin Costner. Written by Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland. Produced by Jim Wilson, Steve Tisch and Kevin Costner. A Warner release. Drama. Rated R for violence and some sexuality. Running time: 177 min
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