In The Postman (Kevin Costner, 1997), Costner plays another man with no name, this time called only The Postman. This sci-fantasy takes tropes of the modern western, changing the dirt of the open range to, uh… dirt on the open range, trading horses for um… horses and replacing outlaw gangs with… outlaw militia (sort of?). It’s Road Warrior in the post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest… Wait a minute… wasn’t that Waterworld? Kind of, but not really. The Postman is based on the 1982 novel of the same name by David Brin. Costner walks the wastelands of future America and finds an old abandoned mail truck in which to take shelter from a storm. He also finds a skeleton, still in its postal uniform, where the former postman died while attempting to complete his rounds during the apocalypse. (Now that’s dedication.) When Costner comes across a small settlement of survivors, he claims to be a postman of the restored United States government. The lie works, so he runs with it and eventually begins to take the ruse seriously enough to use it as a way to get food, shelter and women. Yes, even in post-apocalyptic survival mode men still try to gain any advantage in order to pick up chicks.
Aside from a sex scene, replete with nudity I’d forgotten about, and a sprinkling of F-bombs and other assorted profanities, The Postman is a PG-13 level adventure with a big fat R rating. Why? I don’t know. The nudity and profanity didn’t help the story in any way – and I’m in favor of nudity and profanity if it serves the story. This time, it did not and was unnecessary. The rating is not the only thing wrong with the movie. It’s three hours long and more than a little boring. It’s poorly paced and kind of boring. And it’s pretty lifeless, when it’s not being boring. I don’t mean boring as in “not interesting and tedious”, per se; I mean boring as in it’s a good/solid movie. “Good/solid” is how a some friends and I describe a professionally produced film with skilled screenwriting, acting and direction, but is not particularly interesting or moving, with little tension. Basically uninteresting and tedious… Okay, it’s just boring.
After Waterworld, Costner did Tin Cup (Ron Shelton, 1996), where he showed up and “acted” as a star is supposed to do, I guess. Then he donned both the Producer and Director hats again as he’d done for Waterworld. I’m sensing his feelings may still have been hurting from the critical response to Waterworld. He was an Academy Award winning filmmaker, after all! And he was now responsible for what was being called the biggest flop since his Oscar wins. He’d go big again, but this time he’d ditch the silly plot and over-the-top characters in favor of a more grounded plot and realistic characters with heart. I mean, a guy who dresses like an old-fashioned postman gives what’s left of the country hope. An orphaned teen, rescued by The Postman, changes his name to Ford Lincoln Mercury (Larenz Tate) and claims himself the Postmaster. And General Bethlehem (Will Patton), the openly racist bad guy, continually spouts Shakespeare to prove that he’s a civilized intelligent man and not a barbarian. Okay, swing-and-a-miss on the grounded plot and realistic characters. Costner attempts to make the movie a more serious adult entertainment with the nudity, sex and swear words; hence the R rating. And he also tries to give the film gravitas by stretching it out. Way out. Did I mention it’s THREE HOURS LONG?!
The Postman is not good. It’s not completely bad. (Waterworld was completely bad, but all kinds of fun because of it. That’s why I liked it.) The Postman is just good/solid. Like Kevin Costner. As an actor, he’s not bad enough to hate and not good enough to love. He’s just kind of in the middle of the road. I think that blandness worked in Waterworld. He was the complimentary calm eye of that calamitous wacky storm. But in The Postman, he’s exactly the same as its story. He’s a white stripe on a white wall. And this time, his clean cut, good natured, all-American archetype didn’t work. The Postman needed a lead who was on edge, more proactive and passionate. Costner’s not any of those things. He’s a nice guy who plays a good nice guy. And The Postman needed more than “nice”. (Also, it could have used an editor.)