In my original review of Waterworld (1995), the previous Kevin Costner foray into the sci-fi genre, I wrote that it leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth that so much money wasn't spent on some more original material instead of doing Mad Max (1979) on water. Well, maybe Costner read the review (ha! ha!) because he decided to base his latest film on The Postman, a much-loved novel by celebrated science fiction author David Brin. Now I must admit that I haven't read the novel (his first, which has a substantial cult following) but the film that resulted seems more like Waterworld (1995) on sand than anything else.
The Postman is set in an America devastated by some unnamed cataclysm. The plot involves a Dances With Wolves-type loner who, after escaping recruitment in a viscous army of fascist thugs, takes a postal worker uniform off a skeleton and, clutching some undelivered mail, passes himself off as a representative of the "Restored United States of America." In the process he inspires down-trodden townsfolk into rising into rebellion against the said army of fascist thugs.
Now, while the idea of a postal worker "handing out hope like candy in his pockets" (like one character remarks during one of the film's most clumsiest-written scenes) may seem absurd, the notion of the delivery of mail giving post-apocalypse survivors hope is actually a clever metaphor for the type of thing one will miss should civilisation come to a fall. Think of mail as a luxury? Well, that's exactly the type of luxury you take for granted now that you will miss...
But let's get straight to the point: is The Postman as bad as everybody says it is? After all, the film was given the so-called Raspberry Award for worst movie of 1997! To be honest, that depends on your schmaltz tolerance level. The film abounds in slow-motion scenes set to a thousand strings orchestra and is populated by hordes of teary-eyed children. Strangely enough, things keep chugging along without becoming truly excruciating. The audience I saw it with seemed to have enjoyed it and so did my companion. To be honest, there's a good film struggling to get out from under it all. What it needs is a "studio's cut": shorten some scenes, cut others out altogether and rewrite some of the dialogue. (The running time is just too long...) Costner plays a surprising modest reluctant type of hero, some of the photography and sets are quite good (although not as elaborate of those of Waterworld (1995)) and at points one does become involved with the story. Should you see it? Well, if you're the type who fell for the lame love story in the first half of Titanic, then by all means. If you only saw that movie to watch the ship sink in spectacular fashion, then I'll definitely think twice. But absolutely worst movie of 1997? I think not. That particular dubious honour should go to Batman & Robin...
Review by James O'Ehley from The Sci-Fi Movie Page.