Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:57 - Released 12/25/97

Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves was a great film. His Waterworld wasn't. And The Postman is a cross between the two, in just about every sense of the phrase.

This latest offering from Costner's Tig Production Company is written by Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland, based on the book by David Brin, and takes place in 2013 in the western part of what had been the United States. Apparently, there has been some kind of civil war in which the U.S. government has been overthrown by the forces of a man named Nathan Holn, and the victorious soldiers, who call themselves the "Holnists," now run the place in the fashion of feudal lords. The American West has been strangely cast back in time about 100 years, dotted with small towns whose people live like nineteenth-century settlers. As long as the Holnists leave them alone, they go about their business in reasonable security, but when the band of road-warrior types shows up, the largely unarmed townspeople have to fork over their valuables, and occasionally some of their healthy young men and women, for the good of the Holnist army. For this reason, all the towns are surrounded by huge fences, and people are quite suspicious of outsiders like Costner's character.

After being "drafted" and escaping from the Holnists, the drifter charms his way into a town by disguising himself as a mailman, assuring the inhabitants that the U.S. government has been re-established and will soon be back in power. Soon many others have joined his "postal service," which quickly evolves into a para-military organization sworn to (1) deliver messages and (2) fight the Holnists.

The principal reason this movie is not very believable is that it is set only 15 years in the future. It seems decidedly unlikely that if the U.S. government were overthrown today, such a change could take place within 15 years. The way people fail to remember things that today we are intimately familiar with; the total dissolution of our modern way of life — it would make a lot more sense if it were set in, say, 2113. For instance, when someone asks "The Postman" what the new U.S. president's name is, he thinks for a moment and responds, "Uh...Richard ...Starkey." That there would be no one in the room 15 years from now who would recognize this as Ringo Starr's real name is unlikely.

There are occasional reminders that this is set in the future and not the past, like abandoned gas stations, decrepit television sets, and an old (future) issue of Playboy magazine, but no computer is ever seen, nor is there any mention of the Internet or e-mail, a system that threatens to make the postal service obselete anyway, and one that would be very difficult for the Holnists to control. Especially since their technology seems to consist mainly of guns and an old movie projector which is used almost exclusively to entertain the army with an old copy of The Sound of Music.

This movie is filled with Costner heroics, like the pointless scene of him speeding up to a full gallop to grab a letter out of a young boy's upraised hand, when he could have just stopped and talked to the kid and taken his letter in a civilized manner. Stupid. The film's final showdown is ridiculously anticlimactic, but also inevitably Costner-esque. Peace, brother.

Still, it is a pretty interesting story. Stephen F. Windon's cinematography is at times astounding, and there is good acting by Costner, Olivia Williams as his girlfriend, and Will Patton as General Bethlehem, the Holnist leader. Also notable is Larenz Tate as Costner's overzealous first recruit in the Postal army.

So let's compare: the setting is a futuristic no-man's land run by obnoxious bullies (Waterworld), and Costner is a charming good-guy who becomes a respected leader and friend of a group of people who formerly distrusted him, and falls in love with a woman whose husband was killed by the bad guys (Dances). Sorry, but I can't help thinking Costner is just trying to cash in on the best of his latest two epics. ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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