Dreamcatcher (2003)

reviewed by
Harvey S. Karten


# stars based on 4 stars: 2 Reviewed by: Harvey Karten Warner Bros./Castle Rock/Village Roadshow Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan Written by: William Goldman, Lawrence Kasdan novel by Stephen King Cast: Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Timothy Olyphant, Donnie Wahlberg Screened at: Loews 34th St., NYC, 3/17/03

If you're the urban type like Woody Allen (he's the guy who feels claustrophobic whenever he sees a tree), you probably hate going to any getaway in the woods or the mountains or even the seashore. Your friends all think you're nuts. Lawrence Kasdan, who directed "Dreamcatcher" adapted by William Goldman and the director from Stephen King's fat novel, gives you evidence that for the most part, you're better off staying close to home. A horror movie that illustrates the genre's master, Stephen King's going back to his roots rather than stay with his penchant for more earthly, psychological thrillers, "Dreamcatcher" is about the species of alien that movies often springs from people's stomachs. Those include slimy, sticky wormy space travelers, huge, shark-like mammals with more sharp teeth than you'd find on a team of Huskies, and voices that invade human bodies to fool others into thinking they're dealing with the folks next door when neighbors actually have mayhem on their evil minds.

The movie is in serious trouble with a plot that's more convoluted than Alain Resnais' murky 1961 film "Last Year at Marienbad," a pic whose subplots and flashbacks and surrealism propel themes that are so circuitous, so enigmatic, that only an average fourteen year old might begin to understand what the heck is going on. Kasdan plunges into so many diverse elements that even at the picture's altogether overlong 135 minutes he manages merely to scratch the surface of each one.

Take for example what we're led to believe is central: that when an idiot savant, Duddits is saved by a quartet of high schoolers from a dangerous encounter with bullies, the grateful young man who speaks gibberish confers on the saviors the gift of reading minds. You'd think that these four fellows would get rich on this bestowal, but during the next twenty years, after settling into normal professions, they have done virtually nothing during that time that Mel Gibson did not accomplish in just days in Nancy Meyers's "What Women Want." Because their talent at perceiving others' thoughts makes them unique, they have bonded, meeting regularly in a cabin in Maine (actually filmed in snowy British Columbia) and shoot the breeze about their women and about whatever else Joe-College types discuss.

Though their ability does help them out in the real challenge that faces them on the approach of middle age, not much is done with the theme because for a good part of the story, they are too busy fighting those aliens. Henry (Thomas Jane), the handsomest of the group, is a psychiatrist who once told an obese patient why he's eating himself to death, chasing him away by revealing stuff that only the fattie could have known--and is himself almost driven to suicide from his guilt. Beaver (Jason Lee), is not as prescient as the other friends, but Jonesy (Damian Lewis) is a professor who saves a student who might have lost his scholarship for cheating as he knows the cause of the misdemeanor. Pete (Timothy Olyphant) loses one woman after another by telling each her thoughts--and turns into an alcoholic. Be careful what you wish for.

After a promising opening which at least stays on a human level, Kasdan changes the tone dramatically. As they four enjoy their company in the Maine woods they are hit by a snowstorm; they spot the surreal image of hundreds of animals bears, moose, deer, rabbits and the like tearing away, using their animal senses to make them aware of danger before people can sense it; a flatulent and belching old man is found bleeding and taken in by the guys, but when he stays too long in the toilet, two fellas knock the door down only to find alien bodies pushing against the cover of the seat itching to get out. Can't blame 'em.

The adrenaline-charged young men run through enough adventure to last a lifetime involving a crashed four-wheeler, an old speechless woman who lies half frozen in the snow, and ultimately an army of helicopters flown by a group of elite units not connected to the U.S. military, led by Col. Abraham Kurtz (a buzz-cut man with eyebrows like John L. Lewis who has been fighting aliens unbeknownst to anyone else in the world for the past quarter century and is joined by second-in-command Captain Owen Underhill (Tom Sizemore). "Seven Days in May" joins the multiplicity of themes in a pot pourri of one-damn-thing-after- another; all joined in a movie that for all of John Seale's beautiful photography and Industrial Light & Magic's special effects has a screenplay virtually devoid of humor and wit and style unless you consider the accent that British actor Jonesy adopts to signify the evil that has overtaken his body and fighting for his mind to be cute.

For superior stories in this genre, look again at Luis Llosa's "Anaconda," about a documentary film crew on the Amazon threatened by a huge snake and only one snake, which makes all the difference; and Ron Underwood's "Tremors," an updating of 1950's monster pics that makes far more effective use of humor. Both retain their focus.

Rated R. 134 minutes. Copyright 2003 by Harvey Karten at Harveycritic@cs.com

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