“Dreamcatcher” is a triumph of big and slimy monster effects and a disaster of screenwriting and yet it’s so silly and unintentionally funny that I was never totally bored. Maybe the problem is with me as I was expecting “Dreamcatcher” to be a cross between “Stand by Me” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with echoes of “The Big Chill” thrown in for good measure. Boy, am I stupid.
“Dreamcatcher” is based on a supposedly “significant piece of work” by Stephen King (probably described that way by people who measure a novel’s “significance” by its weight in pounds) who, lately, has been accused of mining his old stories when writing his recent novels. “Dreamcatcher” has all of the parts of the Stephen King universe crunched up and thrown into the works: a tale of lifelong friends (“It”); a mysterious entity invading an isolated and peaceful town (“Storm of the Century”); and a climactic showdown of biblical proportions (“The Stand”).
The movie opens with intercuts of the four childhood friends (played by Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant, Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis) each of whom are approaching the cold reality of middle age and battling alcoholism, suicidal depression and painful childhood memories. They return to Derry, Maine for their annual hunting trip, more of a reunion actually, the one place where they can come to terms with the fact that they each possess strange psychic gifts, a gift bestowed on them by a retarded boy they befriended years earlier.
It’s here that the action begins when the guys discover a wounded old man in the woods who begins spouting strange eel looking creatures out of his pores, out of areas that I didn’t even know existed on the human body. The alien creatures begin to invade the men’s bodies, specifically Jonesy (Damian Lewis), and those of the people in the small town, which causes a deep battle within Jonesy’s soul as his human side does battle with the alien presence wrestling inside of him. Then a top-secret military unit, led by Morgan Freeman, shows up, determined to blow the whole town to smithereens.
Does any of this sound very interesting? I don’t think so, and I think the basic problem is with the four guys who are thin and one-dimensional and show little evidence (Are these actors too young?) of sharing a deep and lifelong bond with each other. Why are the men’s lives so necessarily unhappy if they have psychic powers? The film wants to show us that their psychic powers do more harm than good to them, but I didn’t find their problems believable (Why wouldn’t psychic powers help you get girls? What about gambling?) and the “midlife crisis” storyline that director Lawrence Kasdan expertly explored in “The Big Chill” is only given lip service here. The actors playing the four men give workmanlike performances.
Another problem, more basic, is the fact that “Dreamcatcher” just isn’t scary. “Dreamcatcher”’s script was written by Hollywood legend William Goldman, a real craftsman (and Stephen King veteran), but he hasn’t outdone himself here. The idea of the men having to find the aliens inside their bodies is a great idea that isn’t handled very well in the film. When Jonesy finds himself under attack, we hear two voices come out of him, one of them heavily English sounding (Lewis is a British actor) which I suppose is a device to show the two forces battling for control of Jonesy’s body, but it’s confusing and ineffective. I think it would’ve been really exciting (and an actor’s dream) to see a constant battle inside the men’s bodies between the human character and the alien force and the deep frustration the alien would feel at trying to overwhelm the human side. What happens is that the retarded friend, Duddits, seems to be the only one who can save the four friends which makes us wonder where he’s been for the past twenty years. The “alien body invasion” is so drawn out and torturous, I wonder how they could ever take over the human race since they make so much noise.
The aliens in the film, and the resulting monstrosities that come out of them, are visually impressive, but I wasn’t much moved by them. One of the lead aliens, Mr. Gray, would’ve been a much more interesting villain if he’d appeared as a “thinking alien monster,” maybe like a dark version of the Anthony Hopkins character from King’s wonderful “Hearts in Atlantis.” The aliens are crude and rough; there’s no subtlety in the way they attack the humans, no subtle negotiation between the two beings, no sense of where they came from or what drives their actions. It’s hard to care or feel anything towards the aliens when, for instance, Jonesy is such an underdeveloped character. Who cares if an alien takes over his body? What we’re left with is a geek show, adequately mounted by “Dreamcatcher”’s A-team technical crew led by director Lawrence Kasdan. “Dreamcatcher” cost a lot of money to make (upwards of $100 Million), but I think I’d believe the makers of the film if they said it was made for half that. There’s nothing epic here, just lots of constant viscera ground out over a bruising two plus hours.
That leaves the always wonderful Morgan Freeman who plays Colonel Abraham Curtis (Read: Marlon Brando’s Kurtz), the demented military commander who arrives in Derry to wipe out the aliens. I like how Freeman plays his character as an intelligent psychopath with deep emotional scars. Too bad he’s not in the film that much. It’s a very good performance as a sort of burned out alien hunter. Freeman’s work here reminds me of Samuel L. Jackson’s performance in Unbreakable in the way that both characters use quiet dignity and intelligence to mask their deep rage and paranoia.
Ultimately, “Dreamcatcher” is a really illogical and silly movie whose profligate resources seem to have been spent by people who would step over hundred dollar bills to pick up pennies. I wonder how horror fans will respond to the non-stop action and the plentiful gore. Maybe this is a barf bag movie? I don’t know, but I think some people might find all of this entertaining. You’d have to be devoid of logic and reason, but maybe the bad dialogue and over-the-top effects will be entertaining to genre fans who are so addicted to Identikit parts of movies that they can’t enjoy anything else. I might even watch it again myself, because I really can’t believe what I saw.