Kevin Costner plays edgy roles from time to time - his parts in "JFK" and "A Perfect World" come to mind - but he also has a sentimental streak as wide as a Panavision screen. Remember the cloying "Message in a Bottle," anyone?
His tearful side triumphs in "Dragonfly," which stirs potentially enticing ingredients into an uneasy blend of "Ghost" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
The biggest burst of excitement comes during the opening credits, as a bus carrying physicians Joe and Emily Darrow plunges off a Venezuelan cliff into a raging river. Emily dies in the accident, and Joe copes with grief by working harder than ever in his Chicago hospital.
Then images of dragonflies start fluttering into his life, reminding him of Emily's birthmark and hinting that she's still in touch with him. Eeriest of all are the messages he receives from some of her former patients, hospitalized kids who've had near-death experiences.
Are they hallucinating? Are they pint-sized frauds seeking attention? Or are enigmatic clues embedded in the dragonfly-shaped designs they draw?
Joe struggles for answers while his colleagues struggle with him, wondering if he's trapped in perpetual mourning or flat-out losing his mind.
The climax brings us back to Venezuela and that raging river.
I don't want to give away the movie's surprises, but you won't need prophetic powers to guess that Joe's own near-death experience will provide him with inner peace and the movie with a bittersweet finale.
Costner is convincing as the hero, ably supported by Joe Morton as a short-tempered supervisor and Kathy Bates as a feisty neighbor.
"Dragonfly" has little chance of "Ghost"-like popularity, though.
One reason is the droopy screenplay, which oddly downplays the strong romantic angle that gave "Ghost" much of its appeal.
Another is Tom Shadyac's lackluster directing. His biggest hits, including the insufferable "Patch Adams," rely on a kind of aggressive star power (Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy) that Costner can't quite match, maybe because he's too conscientious an actor to fall back on the easiest gimmicks.
He's pleasant to watch, as always. But don't expect "Dragonfly" to build as much buzz as the insect it's named after.
Rated PG-13; contains violence and illness.