The Postman (1998)

*The Postman* is not the worst movie I have ever seen, but I have seen a *lot* of really terrible movies. *The Postman* is overlong, boring, clumsy and laughable, and an utter waste of three hours, but it does have Bill. Bill is the Postman's mule, and a mighty fine ass he is. Poor Bill only survives the first 20 minutes of the movie, however, which is fortunate for the mule, but a real letdown for his fans.

The year is 2013, and the Postman (Kevin Costner) is a loner wandering the vast wasteland of a post-nuclear war America, which is exactly the same character Costner played in *Waterworld*, minus gills and water. The Postman is a Shakespearean "actor," moving from town to town performing plays with his mule in exchange for food. Bill is the better actor. Costner monotonously recites a dispassionate "Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this sun of York" as if he were reading a cereal box, but that Bill, he can really handle a sword.

Bill and the Postman are kidnapped and drafted into the United Army of Nathan Holn, which is the bunch who started the war and ruined the world. The Holnists, as they are called, are led by General Bethlehem (Will Patton, in the worst performance of 1997), a former copy machine salesman who also quotes Shakespeare, and commits numerous other misdeeds, as any villain must. Patton's bad acting is at the opposite end of the scale from Costner's: he egregiously overacts, adding meaningless pauses to his phrases and shouting a whole lot for emphasis where none is called for. "Who... is responsible... for that?" he bellows, pointing to an American flag. Then he repeats it about six times. Nothing gets Bethlehem's blood up like a flag.

After the Postman escapes from the Holnists, he finds a dead mailman and steals his uniform and mailbag, then makes his way to Pineview, where he delivers a pre-fin du monde letter to an old blind woman (Peggy Lipton), so everybody in town loves him. They give him food, and have a big ol' hoedown, with singing and dancing and guitar picking. It all looks and sounds pretty good for a post-apocalypse party -- there are pretty colored lights everywhere to frame Costner's noble visage, and mighty fine craftsmanship on the musical instruments, which is surprising since everybody in the world runs around dressed in rags and animal hides, the knowledge of weaving cloth and sewing garments apparently having escaped these goodly folks while the ability to make steel guitar strings did not. Pineviewers also have paper, and, more amazing, envelopes, with which they write many letters for the phony postman to deliver. This kind of inspires the Postman, who is a reluctant hero, this being one of two characters Costner plays (the other being reluctant sports hero). But the Postman is even more inspired by Abby (Olivia Williams), a comely young lass who wants to have his baby because her sweet husband is sterile on account of the mumps. The Postman delivers.

By bringing old mail, the Postman unwittingly gives the people hope, and they start thinking about the future and returning to a civilized society with real clothes. So when he leaves Pineview, the residents, led by a little girl, sing "America The Beautiful," which disturbs the fraudulent mailman and anyone else still conscious at this, the half way point in this sentimental marathon of mock patriotism and hollow idealism.

Meanwhile, Ford Lincoln Mercury (Larenz Tate), having been greatly moved by the Postman's deceit, reopens the post office and starts all kinds of trouble, making Bethlehem even madder than usual. During a long interlude when the Postman and Abby are sequestered in a snowbound cabin, Ford starts up a postal service, and a whole bunch of *Teen Beat* pretty youngsters sign up to ride horses and deliver mail all over the northwest. The postal carriers are a bunch of little rabblerousers, spreading seditious propaganda and making people happy like good counterrevolutionaries should. Bethlehem responds with murder and mayhem, and the Postman, back from his sabbatical, arms the mail carriers with big automatic weapons. Ford is a little hothead, as rebels go, but the Postman is a born leader because he has the nicest sweater in America (a turtleneck) and his hair is always perfectly coiffed, feathering back with the noble breezes that kiss his princely brow as he rides his great stallion in the pursuit of life, liberty and on-time delivery.

At this point, two hours into it, the movie turns absurdly heroic, with Costner just oozing strained nobility. Slow motion happens (as if this movie needed to be slower), and there is more dancing and carrying on, along with explosions and executions and whatnot, and it is all the most uninspiring thing you could ever hope to see. After an interminable period of increasingly corny heroism and romanticism, the Postman rides into Bridge City, where Tom Petty (acting very badly, consistent with the dominant style of the movie) is mayor. Everybody in Bridge City has nicely styled hair and a little boy asks what a postman is, which makes them all tear up because what kind of horrible post-apocalypse world is it where innocent children have never gotten birthday cards from their grandmothers? It's not a post-apocalypse world worth living in, that's what kind, so the Postman decides to do something about it and he raises a big army, and the final showdown with Bethlehem, which is indescribably ridiculous and lame, occurs.

There is some very pretty scenery in *The Postman* (you can hardly go wrong with the American west), and the idea of written communication and mail delivery being the bedrock of civilisation is actually a pretty interesting one. The script by Eric Roth and Brian Helgelund (based on the best-selling novel by David Brin) is occasionally funny. More often than not, however, it is unintentionally funny, and not at all helped by Costner's sluggish and monotonous directing. To add insult to injury Costner sings on the soundtrack as the credits roll (John Sebastian's "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice") and he sings as well as he acts.

If only Bill had found that mailbag first.