It’s obvious who the target audience for this was: people who’ve never been to a Stephen King movie and want to see what they’ve been missing. Less a coherent piece of freestanding cinema than a greatest hits grab-bag of the author’s signature themes, motifs and obsessions, “Dreamcatcher” is certain to come off as recycled silliness to virtually anyone else.
Though there is something undeniably strange happening here. It’s not, however, what happens when four young friends who seem to have wandered out of “Stand By Me” rescue a mentally handicapped boy from the clutches of small town bullies. It goes without saying the grateful lad possesses otherworldly powers along the lines of those possessed by characters in “The Shining,” “Carrie” and “The Dead Zone.” As his way of saying thanks, he bestows some of them on the good samaritans.
And it isn’t what happens twenty years later when the four guys get together for their annual hunting trip in the Maine woods. Just as it did in “Storm of the Century,” a massive blizzard descends and augers an evil visitation. In this case it takes the form, at first, of a lost and dazed hunter who staggers to the guys’ cabin. His face is marked with expanding red splotches and his belly appears to house ominous, vaguely volcanic activity. The grossest alien invasion in film history is launched moments later. So as not to spoil the magic moment for you, let’s just say the four friends are shocked to find their guest sitting lifelessly upon their commode and the contents of said fixture posing an imminent, incredibly smelly threat to humankind. Where’s that Tidy Bowl guy when you really need him?
Meanwhile, two of the pals careen off a snowy mountain road just like James Caan did in “Misery.” Unfortunately for them, they run into something even scarier than Kathy Bates on their way back to the cabin. One by one, the friends are confronted by excellent CGI fanged eel-type creatures. A couple even bump into tall unpleasant spacemen.
Just when you think the picture couldn’t get more all over the place, Morgan Freeman and Tom Sizemore swoop down in attack choppers as the advance wave of an operation conducted by a shadowy government unit. You know, like the shadowy government unit which pursues a telepathic Anthony Hopkins in Hearts in Atlantis.
Their mission, we learn, is to contain the population exposed to the aliens. The bugaboo is that one of the invaders takes control of one of our four campers and uses him to elude capture. A Green Mile-style miracle is needed and a surviving friend realizes only one person on the planet has the power to prevent Armageddon. Yup, the little mentally handicapped kid, who’s now a little mentally handicapped middle aged man. The balance of the movie consists of a race against the clock to apprehend the alien before it can wipe out life as we know it and to cram in as many references as possible to other King works (“It,” “The Stand,” “Thinner,” etc.) before the closing credits roll.
The strange thing about “Dreamcatcher” isn’t all the people with paranormal powers, the supernaturally bad weather, or even those deadly stools from space. What’s truly weird is the fact that the whole sloppy, pointless, predictable mess was directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Those of you whose minds haven’t been taken over by aliens will remember him as the filmmaker responsible for highly regarded titles like “The Big Chill,” “Silverado,” “Body Heat” and “Grand Canyon.” Unless the real Lawrence Kasdan is lying in a pod somewhere, there would seem to be no explanation conceivable for the singular lack of distinction which characterizes his latest film.
To be fair, the story is more than just a wholesale ransacking of previous King creations. It steals from lots of other peoples’ work too. Echoes of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Alien” and even A Prayer For Owen Meany (adapted for the screen under the title Simon Birch) are glaringly apparent. In fact, Kasdan’s film borrows from so many lively, highly imaginative sources you might make the assumption it couldn’t help but be loads of fun.