Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

Three words: THE ROAD WARRIOR. The year is 2013, and the United States has collapsed under the weight of war, plagues and environmental damage. Society has been set back more than a century: horses replace automobiles; cities and industry are gone; survivors

cluster in isolated towns and eke out a living from the slowly recovering land. The Holnists, a racist military cult commanded by petty despot General Bethlehem (Will Patton) -- who preaches a Dale Carnegie-esque ethic of self-improvement through savagery -- keep the scattered townspeople in a

constant state of terror (though the rank and file demonstrate a perplexing fondness for THE SOUND OF MUSIC). Out of the desert comes a loner, a nameless, itinerant actor (Kevin Costner) who's brutally conscripted into Bethlehem's army, then escapes and scams shelter from some suspicious locals by

appropriating the uniform and mailbag of a long-dead U.S. postal worker. Much to his surprise, the uniform -- and the lies he's forced to spin by way of explanation -- kindle hope; the newly christened Postman becomes a reluctant symbol of both the past and the possibility of its reconstruction.

He acquires a cadre of youthful followers who really do begin delivering mail, uniting the scattered towns in a dream of a restored United States and forcing the grifter to become the hero they think he is. Unlike TITANIC, which skims through its considerable running time like a catamaran,

Costner's ponderous post-apocalyptic morality tale feels every minute of its nearly three hours. Based on the acclaimed novel by David Brin, it's big without being epic, and many of the book's quirkier narrative digressions have been pared away. Cut by an hour it might simply seem derivative; as

it is, there's too much time to think about how tedious, pretentious and even silly it all is. Smug and chinless, Costner simply isn't a heroic presence (no matter how often supporting cast members say he is) and a cameo by Tom Petty just feels smarmy, an incongruous L.A. joke about celebrity by

people who take it far too seriously.