A supernatural thriller? The marketing of Dragonfly conjures up and projects suggestions of mystery, action and deep questions about love and faith — teasing us with shadows where things go bump in the night and dramatic flashes of a love that may be greater than death. But as Dragonfly unfolds its lackluster wings, its mystery fades into New Age sentimentality spiked with a few scattered horror-show shocks.

Good doctors Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner) and his wife Emily (Kathryn Erbe) are a romance-novel gloss of Proof of Life’s Bowmans, a married couple struggling to maintain their Peace Corps idealism in the face of middle age’s encroaching disenchantment. Warmhearted Emily convinces her skeptical husband to join her in a medical mission to the Third World (Dr. Albert Schweitzer redux) and, like the Bowmans, they journey into the jungle to do good deeds. But, as the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Emily is killed, her bus swept from a hillside road by a landslide. Six months later, grieving Dr. Joe visits her surviving patients in their hospital’s pediatric cancer ward, desperate for any traces of his dead wife. He discovers that with each near-death experience the children return from the beyond with cryptic messages from “the woman in the rainbow”: Emily needs Joe to go somewhere and do something so urgently that she appears to him in flashes and acts as a poltergeist in the house she once shared with him. Each message is a piece of a supernatural puzzle whose ultimate meaning is a mystery.

But the true mystery of Dragonfly is why Tom Shadyac chose to produce and direct it. He’s known for helming romantic comedy vehicles for the likes of Jim Carrey (Liar Liar and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective), Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor) and Robin Williams (in Shadyac’s last film, the transitional “dramedy” Patch Adams), with the more-or-less sentimental melodrama of his flicks driven by the zany star power of their rubber-faced, mugging comedians. Costner (back in Joe America mode after his misguided trip into the criminal psychosis of 3000 Miles to Graceland) is fueled only by a grieving desperation that never seems to kick the plot into high gear.

Weighted down by predictability, action clichés and Hollywood dialogue — despite its airy-fairy, feel-good ending — Dragonfly never soars.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].

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