Return to Sender
Kevin Costner’s new post-apocalyptic adventure tries to be much more than a land-based Waterworld, but goes too far. This one has such a bad case of third act trouble that the audience I saw it with actually booed the screen. Those of you curious as to what happens in the USA while Mad Max is kicking ass in Oz might want to wait for the rental, and then keep the fast-forward button handy.
Costner plays a wandering actor in a barren Pacific Northwest who just tries to stay out of trouble. But trouble finds him when he’s captured by the army of a petty dictator (Will Patton). While making his escape, he comes upon the corpse of a postman. Taking the uniform and mailbag, he uses them in the next town to scam a free meal, but unwittingly plants the seed of hope wherever he goes. Eventually he’s forced to take up responsibility for what he’s started and do battle with Patton’s forces.
So far so good – Costner has created an engaging (but long) Western scenario and cast it in a future environment. I can forgive the fact that the tale is set only 15 years in the future – it’s never a good idea to be so specific with a date like that as it seems unlikely that the changes presented could have happened in so short a time.
What’s unforgivable is the last hour’s steady and prolonged dive into thick, syrupy sentimentality without the slam-bang action to make it palatable Instead of letting the characters’ actions speak for themselves, he tries to force a mythic quality onto them and ends up ruining whatever he’d achieved. I’ll tell you about a prime example right after this ********** spoiler warning************. The film ends with a flash-forward another 20 or so years into the future, when the Postman’s daughter is speaking at the dedication of a statue raised in his honor. Amazingly, Costner’s actions have lifted civilization right out of its dark period and things are all hunky-dory. The statue depicts an event depicted earlier when the Postman plucks a letter from a little boy’s hand as he rides on his route. Which makes me wonder if the Postman wrote about the incident in his memoirs so that they’d know what to put in the statue. Costner replays a shot for us, in case anybody was asleep during that scene. A shot of the boy in the statue dissolves into a young man standing in the crowd. Nuff sed, right? Not for Costner. The young man steps forward saying, “My God – that’s me!”. So… not only is the Big Emotional Moment slammed over our heads, but we’re also supposed to believe that somehow the sculptor had such a detailed description that the guy recognized that the statue depicts him and not some other kid who mailed a letter.