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Film review: Postman, The

Published: Friday, Dec. 26 1997 5:07 p.m. MST

"The Postman" is the new film from Kevin Costner, who last directed a film in 1990, the Oscar-winning epic Western "Dances With Wolves." But nowadays he's

more associated with the failed sci-fi/action flick "Waterworld," in which he starred.

"The Postman" is a truly odd and unintentionally hilarious mishmash of both of those films.

Costner directs and stars in this futuristic Western as an unnamed loner who drifts from town to town, performing mock-Shakespearean plays (!) with his faithful mule, Bill. While acting for his dinner (a rather poetic way for Costner to be seen), he is unwillingly enlisted in the Holnist "army," an armed group led by the evil General Bethlehem (Will Patton).

But the drifter escapes and discovers a rusted-out mail carrier jeep, as well as the vehicle's skeletal driver. The loner appropriates the dead man's uniform, along with his sack of undelivered letters, and travels to the nearest town. When confronted by town officials, he introduces himself as "The Postman," a representative of "the restored government of the United States."

The scheme succeeds in getting him a free meal, as well as a tumble in the hay with Abby (newcomer Olivia Williams), a farmer who asks him to father a child for her and her husband. It also inspires young Ford Lincoln Mercury (Larenz Tate), who asks the impostor to swear him in as the town's new postmaster.

With "The Postman's" help, Ford also re-establishes mail "routes," run by young Pony Express riders, to help the townspeople communicate with some of their long-lost relatives.

Of course, the ruse also draws the attention of General Bethlehem and his troops, who believed the drifter was dead and who mobilize to squash this small-scale insurrection.

Adapted from David Brin's post-apocalyptic novel, it is definitely an interesting, if derivative idea. But Costner the director and screenwriters Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland don't explain the premise very well. And things are so deadly earnest that the hokey dialogue and situations seem hysterical. (A good example would be the weird opening, which takes place in "the Great Salt Flats of Utah," though it was obviously filmed on a soundstage.)

"The Postman" is rated R for violence, profanity, gore, nudity, sex, vulgar references and dialogue, racial epithets and some drug use.