DREAMCATCHER(director/writer: Lawrence Kasdan; screenwriters: based on a novel by Stephen King/William Goldman; cinematographer: John Seale; editors: Raúl Dávalos/Carol Littleton; music: James Newton Howard; cast: Morgan Freeman (Colonel Abraham Curtis), Thomas Jane (Dr. Henry Devlin), Jason Lee (Joe ‘Beaver’ Clarendon), Damian Lewis (Gary ‘Jonesy’ Jones), Tom Sizemore (Captain Owen Underhill), Timothy Olyphant (Pete Moore), Andrew Robb (Young Duddits), Donnie Wahlberg (Douglas ‘Duddits’ Cavell), Campbell Lane (Old Man Gosselin), Eric Keenleyside (Rick McCarthy); Runtime: 136; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Bruce Berman/Charles Okun/Lawrence Kasdan; Warner Brothers; 2003)
“This version can lay claim to being another of King’s works that’s disastrous when put on the big screen.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Lawrence Kasdan’s (“The Big Chill“) big-budgeted Dreamcatcher is based on Stephen King’s 463rd novel written in 2001 and the first one written after he was run over by a drunken driver. It is a wintry science fiction horror thriller of 620 pages that is translated into a much too faithful and too abbreviated film version. It leaves out so many details as it’s scripted by William Goldman and Kasdan, that as a result the film seems incoherent. This only proves that a King novel on film is best when not translated in such a faithful way (think Kubrick’s “The Shining”!). This version can lay claim to being another of King’s works that’s disastrous when put on the big screen.
“Dreamcatcher” is a cheerless, awkward, and convoluted ‘save the world’ children-like adventure that is mistakenly directed for adults. The story involves humans battling aliens for control of the world. It is said of the one good alien, that “he’s too good to be human” (the film’s best line). “Dreamcatcher” goes from being a tale about four close bachelor friends with a strong psychic connection to one of trying to figure out why the animals in the woods are fleeing en masse. Then we’re thrown into a more muddled story with multiple plots involving a government U.F.O. cover-up conspiracy, a contagious fungus epidemic, alien bodysnatching, the air-bombing of an alien craft by a covert elite army unit, and finally to questioning the morality of warfare concerning the deaths of some citizens so the majority can live. The film tries in spots to be tongue-in-cheek and downright cheeky (lots of fart jokes), but never fully commits to that and instead plays it mostly for how wormy it can be.
Its incomprehensible story is just that. Alien worms emerge from human or animal carriers and immediately become gigantic shape-shifting razor-toothed creatures with the purpose of spreading their infection and/or getting into Boston’s Quabbin Reservoir and destroying the world’s population (Don’t ask me to explain that last ridiculous plot line!). The story as presented was too far-reaching a yarn to stay focused on any subplot, and it was too overloaded with a “Memory Warehouse” of free associations that turned out to be just so much a serving of squashed pulp.
The film clumsily intercuts its story from the present to the past. After it introduces us to the four best friends as wisecracking adults, it then goes into a flashback and tells about a courageous act they did 20 years ago as children. In the small town of Derry, Maine, the four youngsters rescued a retard (afflicted with Down’s Syndrome) nicknamed Duddits (Robb) from older teenager sadistic bullies, and he in gratitude gives them the power of ESP. Duddit’s supernatural presence is felt by the boys in their hunting cabin where they annually gather to share stories and life experiences. There’s a beaded basket hung in the log cabin which is meant as a protection from nightmares when they sleep and is called by them a “dreamcatcher.” Duddits becomes their fifth lifetime friend and his position is in the center of the “dreamcatcher.”
Dr. Henry Devlin (Thomas Jane) is a suicidal shrink, Gary ‘Jonesy’ Jones (Damian Lewis) is a caring but troubled college professor, Pete Moore (Timothy Olyphant) is a sexually frustrated car salesman, and Joe ‘Beaver’ Clarendon (Jason Lee) is a friendly but too chatty carpenter with a habit of gnawing on a toothpick and who vaguely sees into the future. These pals are all unhappy because they feel the great power they were given is wasted on them, as their powers do not not enable them to necessarily save people as much as it makes them feel weird. They still regularly communicate with each other through their extrasensory gifts, and they snicker like adolescents over their adopted S.S.D.D. motto for their existence (“same shit, different day”).
The friends are alarmed when Jonesy walks like a zombie into the middle of the Boston traffic and is seemingly killed, but he recovers and when the friends meet six months later in the warmth of their hunting cabin Jonesy tells them he felt the presence of Duddits and sensed he was calling out to him a warning of danger. The limping Jonesy seems to be the alter ego of the author, whose hip was damaged after his accident.
Jonesy and Beaver are in the cabin waiting for Pete and Henry to return from Gosselin’s general store with supplies as a blizzard approaches. A frightened lost hunter (Keenleyside) with a serious looking red mark on his neck and a stomach that keeps growing is taken into the cabin, and in a thoroughly gross scene is shitting alien worms into the toilet. As if that wasn’t enough of a shock, there are passing army helicopters led by the mysterious Colonel Abraham Curtis (Morgan Freeman) warning the citizens in the area of aliens spreading an infection. It turns out Curtis has been secretly fighting aliens for over 20 years and has gone bonkers. Curtis tells his second-in-command Captain Owen Underhill (Tom Sizemore) that it’s best to kill everyone in the quarantined wooded area rather than risk an alien getting into the main population, even if most of those infected will soon recover. Curtis says he hates to kill fellow Americans, “Those poor suckers! They drive Chevrolets, they shop at Wal-Mart and they never miss an episode of ‘Friends.’ If we start executing them at 2, we can be done by 2:30!”
It finally takes the frail Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg), now an adult wearing a Boston Red Sox baseball cap (Hey, sucka are you suggesting Beantown fans are retards!), to help Henry save the world after Jonesy’s body has been taken over by an extraterrestrial with a British accent.
Kasdan wrestles with the notion on whether to make this slime rendering of a horror tale campy or creepy or scary. He mixes scenes of trite pop-culture banter with scenes of a menacing undertone. It’s eventually run over by the film’s special-effects that splatter all over the labyrinthine script. The results are a highly lethal dose of crudeness and a vapid entertainment experience.
REVIEWED ON 3/30/2003 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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