Sunday, January 22, 2023

Hey, Mr. "Postman"! Mark This Movie "Return To Sender"!

"You're such an ass!": Kevin Costner gets acting tips from his co-star Bill the mule.

Hello, movie lovers.

Kevin Costner. A national treasure, to be sure. Handsome, talented, affable, athletic, an Oscar winner, a box office draw, star of the wildly popular series "Yellowstone".

In a career that began as Alex, the late campus radical in 1983's "The Big Chill", Costner has appeared in some fine films, including "No Way Out", "The Untouchables", "Silverado", "Field of Dreams", "Dances with Wolves", "Open Range", "The Upside of Anger", "Let Him Go" and (my favorite) "Bull Durham".

Alas, he has also appeared in some...shall we say...not so fine flicks: "The Bodyguard", "Swing Vote", "Revenge", "Water World", "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and "The Postman".

Strangely enough, "The Postman"(1997) is the subject of today's article. Isn't that lucky?

The shades make the Postman look like a bad ass.

To get straight to the point, this movie sucks. On toast. If it was more of a dog, it would have fleas. This flick makes about as much sense as a knitted condom. This movie is about as believable as a Kardashian virginity pledge. It's stupid, awful, dunder-headed, smug and down right offensive--and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. The best character in the cast is played by a mule named Bill, who wisely kept his real name out of the credits.

Although "The Postman" is based on a dystopian novel by Brian Drin, it's really just the same old saw about an eccentric loner wandering aimlessly among the remains of a once-great-nation, who inadvertently starts a movement that inspires the downtrodden to throw off the yoke of their oppressors and reclaim their freedom and dignity.

For our purposes, the eccentric loner is played by Kev, who wanders aimlessly among the ruins of a once-great-nation, visiting knots of villages, performing bits of Shakespeare with his mule Bill, who out acts him at every turn.

Of course, eccentric loner Kev doesn't think much about the people he meets or their sad lives; he just does his thing, gets his money and trudges off into the sunset, leaving behind only the great smell of Brut. However, one day a nasty, fascist, violent, megalomaniac thug named Gen. Bethlehem (Will Patton) rides into a village. He orders Kev and the other guys to join his "army"--an "army" called "The Holnists" who are obsessed with the number 8. An "army" that considers itself the law of the land. An "army" that steals Kev's mule and then later eats him. 

It's clear our eccentric loner isn't going to put up with this nonsense for very long, so he ditches the Holnists and finds safety in an old mail truck. Besides lots of old, unopened mail, the eccentric loner finds the skeletal remains of a postal worker. Kev slips on the stiff's jacket, puts on his cap, grabs his satchel full of letters and heads off into the great wide somewhere.

"Don't you know it's illegal to read other people's mail?" smart ass Bill reminds Kev.

The eccentric loner's first stop is the village of Pineview, where he convinces the town's mayor that he is indeed a mailman and that the government has slowly gotten up and running. The villagers are delighted, especially when Kev gives them actual letters from real family members that folks haven't heard from in ages. That evening, the town has a hoe-down to celebrate and our eccentric loner meets up with a lady person named Abby (Olivia Williams). As they dance, Abby asks Kev some very personal questions, like if he's married, if he's ever been sick, if he's ever had the Clap and if he has healthy man juice. Then Abby introduces Kev to her husband Michael (Charles Esten). See, hubby's man juice is kaput (due to a bout of "the bad mumps") and Abby would like Kev to get her pregnant. Michael is perfectly OK with this, by the way--said no sane husband ever born on God's Green Earth. Always a gentleman, our eccentric loner agrees, to the couple's delight.

As nothing can keep a postman from his appointed rounds, our eccentric loner heads off to the village of Benning, lugging a whole batch of letters from the folks of Pineview. Unfortunately, Gen. Bethlehem and his fanatical fascists arrive shortly thereafter. See, they fear an independent postal system will threaten their power over the population. So they shoot everybody in sight, torch the post office a plucky dude named Ford Lincoln Mercury (Larenz Tate) has restored and take Abby hostage. The Holnists also catch up with Kev and he surrenders (don't ask). But have no fear: Kev and Abby manage to escape and even find a cute cabin to spend the winter.

While Kev and Abby nest, word continues to spread about the postal service and villagers everywhere start writing letters. To deliver the letters, people of all ages sign up to be postal carriers. Soon, mail routes have been established, linking once isolated villages. Even more important than the letters, however, is the hope the mail carriers are spreading. The government has been re-established! The president is a good guy! They no longer have to fear the Holnists! Civilization is being restored!

No one is more surprised by this than our eccentric loner. He only donned the mail carrier's uniform to escape the Holnists. He only wanted to find his old home/neighborhood/village called Rosewood (or something like that). He never intended to spark a social uprising. He's an eccentric loner who has only ever thought about himself, for Pete's sake! Does he look like Gandhi?

Fearing that his reign of terror might be coming to an end, meanie Gen. Bethlehem orders any and all mail carriers shot and redoubles his efforts to find the Postman, as he's now called. Kev, learning that the mail carriers are being killed, feels things have gotten out of hand and tries to disband the postal service for everyone's safety. Nothin' doing'. Neither rain, snow, sleet, hail or murder will keep these mail carriers from their appointed rounds. What's more, the Postman's message of hope has traveled as far as (what once was) California, which drives Gen. Bethlehem batty. Who will rid me of this troublesome Postman?! wails the general.

"You got Lucky": Mayor Tom Petty (yes, he's really the mayor!) of Bridge City happily agrees to help the Postman on his appointed rounds.

Meanwhile, Abby and Kev, guided by mail carriers Eddie, Ponytail (Costner's real daughter Annie) and Billy head off to Bridge City. It's at this site that the Postman hopes to escape via a cable car. In order to do that, Kev will need the help of Bridge City's mayor who happens to be and ,no, I am not kidding, Tom Petty! The real Tom Petty! He's not playing a character! Tom Petty is the REAL mayor of Bridge City! How do we know this for sure? Because Kev gives the mayor a hard stare and says, "I know you." Pause. "Your...famous."

"I was once," the good natured Petty replies. "Not anymore."

Later, when the people of Bridge City converge and realize Kev is the Postman, Tom says, "I heard of you, man. Your famous!"

Tom Petty is one of my favorite artists. It's great to know he had such a healthy perspective on the true nature of fame. I bet he was a good mayor, too. I mean, not every rock star is cut out for public office. As much as I love George Thorogood, for example, I just don't see him in a position like that. Also, Bridge City's nightly campfires must have beeen wild, with Tom belting out "Free Falling", "Don't Come Around Here No More", "The Waiting" and other hits. The scenes with Tom are the highlight of this film; Petty totally steals the flick--he's even better than Bill! (May they both rest in peace. Tom left us in 2017, remember).

Anywhooo, Kev and Abby hitch a ride on the cable car and Mayor Petty urges the Postman to keep up the fight for freedom and justice, which he does.

The Postman and his Carriers are ready to deliver mail and kick ass. And their out of mail.

In a scene that would give AP English teachers the vapors, "The Postman" stages the final confrontation (there's always a final confrontation in these type of movies) between the Carriers and the Holinsts as a replay of Henry V's Siege of Harfluer. Kev even rallies his troops with Henry's (actually Shakespeare's) famous speech, "Once more unto the breech dear friends, once more...!" (You can read the rest of the speech yourself; it's pretty rousing). Unfortunately, Kev, talented as he is, isn't an Olivier or a Kenneth Branagh. Not since Millard Coody (of the Wichita Mountain Pageant) who appeared as Jesus in H. Kroger Babb's "The Prince of Peace" (1948) uttering in his flat, mid-western twang, "Which one o' you is gonna betray me?" has there been a greater mismatch between an actor and their dialogue--unless some genius gets the idea to cast Tori Spelling as Cleopatra ("I'm, like, fire and air; My other elements I totally give to, you know, baser life or something", I can hear Tori warble).

I don't want to spoil the ending for you, but Gen. Bethlehem and his fascist fiends are defeated, just not in the way you'd expect. Never the less, with Bethlehem gone, freedom returns to the once-great unnamed nation and everybody lives happily ever after. In the-not-to-distant future, the daughter of the Postman and Abby, all grown up, gives a speech at the unveiling of a statue of the Postman from a grateful nation. The statue is a recreation of a moment when Kev (on horse back, mind you) snatched a letter from a young boy so it could be delivered. Among the throng at the unveiling is that very boy, now all grown up.

"That was me," he whispers, holding back tears as the music swells.

If director Costner wanted this moment to pack the kind of punch of ,say, the ending of "Saving Private Ryan" or "Spartacus" ("Here's your son, Spartacus and he's free!") or "Brian's Song" ("I love Brian Piccolo. And I want you to love him, too. And tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him...")  he was very, very mistaken. Even a single-celled organism would know what's coming, especially when they saw the statue and the camera pans to a blond guy tearing up, with his wife offering up wifely support. 


"A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!": The entertainment starved citizens of Pineview sit through the Postman's version of Richard III and over look the fact that Bill (far left) is a mule, not a horse.

Of course, "The Postman" was a box office bomb and the critics weren't too impressed. USA Today called the movie a "futuristic folly", while Film Journal International  said it was a "bloated spectacle with leaden attempts at humor." The Movie described it as "a miserable failure in just about every respect." The New York Times, meanwhile, took issue with the flick's "bogus sentimentality" and "mawkish jingoism." My favorite review of "The Postman" comes courtesy of Paul Tatara of He felt "The Postman" was "about as inspiring as a movie about a vengeful meter reader." Director/star Kevin Costner, however, defended his MESSterpiece insisting "I always thought it was a good movie!", but admitted he "probably started it wrong." Probably? 

However, to the Golden Raspberry Awards (aka the Razzies), "The Postman" was catnip. It earned Costner both the Worst Actor and Worst Director honors for 1998. It also won Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay and it's entire soundtrack won Worst Song. That's an impressive basket of berries, considering "Water World" (an equally bad movie dubbed "Fishtar"--after the megaflop "Ishtar"--and "Kevin's Gate" after "Heaven's Gate") was nominated for four Razzies in 1995 and only brought home one: Worst Supporting Actor for Dennis Hopper.

While it's true "The Postman" ended up delivering useless junk mail instead of, say, an IRS refund check of $50,000 dollars, the flick did finally convince Kev to move on from playing selfish loners who discover they have untapped wells of greatness in them. "The Postman" also showed us the value of the written word over, say, texting, and how vital our postal service is. And then there is the Tom Petty cameo. And the Peggy Lipton cameo. Both of these folks are gone now, so it's a real treat to see them on screen. And Kev's daughter Annie (as Ponytail) showed promise as a young actress (she was 10 or 12 at the time). And the flick swept the Razzies, which is impressive in itself, considering "Batman and Robin" and "Speed 2" were also in contention for Worst Picture (just for the record, I find "Batman and Robin" utterly unwatchable; therefore, for "The Postman" to bring home the Worst Picture basket of berries has to stand as one of the highlights of Kev's career).

So, for being the best thing in this rotten, nasty chain-letter of a movie, Tom Petty, Junk Cinema salutes you!

The mayor of Bridge City tells the Postman that freedom-loving citizens everywhere are "Counting on You" to continue the fight against fascism. 

No comments:

Post a Comment