Besides being a giant mess and a terrible bore of a movie, “Dreamcatcher” has the same problem as “Signs” — it’s a science fiction movie about aliens made by people who aren’t interested in the topic. If the screenplay by William Goldman (“The Princess Bride”) and Lawrence Kasdan (“Body Heat”) doesn’t convince you that these two men have little to no interest in science fiction, then their (unintentionally) hilarious version of an alien invasion will seal the deal. The result is a film that tries to be more than a sci-fi romp when fans of the genre don’t want more, and non-fans will wonder what the hell aliens are doing here.
“Dreamcatcher” is about 4 childhood friends that have a telepathic bond thanks to their relationship to a retarded kid name Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg). This little gift comes in handy when, 20 years later, the four friends take their daily trip to a cabin out in the woods during the dead of winter. Unfortunately for them, a race of alien invaders in the form of slithering and slimy slugs with really big (and lots of) teeth is planning an invasion (and apparently not for the first time). Bent on stopping the little body snatchers is hardcore military guy Colonel Kurtz (Morgan Freeman), the type of guy who can only exist in the minds of one Stephen King, who has never met a military/government/establishment official that he didn’t have disdain for.
I should also mention that the aliens take over human bodies as hosts and gestates inside them while growing into adulthood, at which point they exit the body by means that involves loud, continuous flatulence and a trip to the bathroom. Besides this little (not to mention overly gross) means of exit, “Dreamcatcher” resembles a film stitched together from genre cliché. For instance, using humans as host is old hat for Alien Invasion movies. The movie’s only original touch is the visualization of a character’s “memory storage warehouse”, where we see the character physically removing memories and inserting in new ones as life dictates. Unfortunately the rest of the film is not this clever.
Because this is a Stephen King story, all the standard King conventions are present, some more noticeable than others. There’s the Big Bad Government/Military, teen bullies, kids with psychic abilities, the lyrics of one song that gets repeated over and over, and little made-up catchphrases formed from old TV shows or books that King thinks is really creative, but sounds lame coming from the mouths of 30-something characters. It’s probably no surprise that the vast majority of King’s stories that translates poorly to the screen involve the paranormal. His straight dramas, like “Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand By Me”, prove that he’s a better writer when he doesn’t stray into clich’d genre territory (which he invariably does, probably without realizing it).
When it comes to writing about the paranormal, King’s idea of scary is not very scary at all. With a novel, King’s monsters benefit from the reader’s imagination. Not so on the big screen, where the monsters always seem to turn out really, well, lame. Take the villain of “Dreamcatcher”, essentially slimy slugs with big teeth. (Did King even wonder how slugs flew that ship to Earth in the first place?) These slugs are really disgusting, but definitely not scary. Even when one slug inexplicably turns into a giant slug later on in the movie, it still isn’t very scary. Also, King’s paranormal stories always seem to lose steam toward the end, as if King just hit a wall and pulled a deux ex machina out of his Great Big Chest of Really Dumb Ways To End a Movie. For instance, the evil clown in “It” was a lot scarier than the giant bug it turned into in the end.
As mentioned, “Dreamcatcher” is much too long, and shoulders about 30 minutes of wasted screentime. Director Lawrence Kasdan, not exactly known for big-budget sci-fi epics, pads the running time with tangents involving the characters driving or walking leisurely through the movie’s picturesque mountain retreat. The snow and the sight of whitewashed landscape looks very nice, but they have absolutely nothing to do with the movie’s alien plot. If anything, the film’s winter cinematography by John Seale has more personality and charm than the movie itself. (And did I mention that it’s way too long?)
“Dreamcatcher” is certainly a mess of a film in almost every way imaginable. Worst, it’s a big-budget mess that fails to convince as neither a drama nor an Alien Invasion movie. To top it off, the movie is unintentionally funny on many occasions. One occurrence involve an alien mimicking an English accent while inside a host. And then there’s Morgan Freeman (“Bruce Almighty”), who must really be down on his luck because this is, perhaps, the worst performance of his life. You know you’re in big trouble when Tom Sizemore, perennial owner of the Tough Sergeant roles, outshines you.
Lawrence Kasdan (director) / Lawrence Kasdan, William Goldman (screenplay), Stephen King (novel)
CAST: Morgan Freeman …. Col. Abraham Kurtz
Damian Lewis …. Jonesy
Thomas Jane …. Henry Devlin
Jason Lee …. Beaver
Timothy Olyphant …. Pete Moore
Tom Sizemore …. Capt. Owen Underhill
Donnie Wahlberg …. Duddits