High-end horror? Keep dreaming

March 21, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The movie is called Dreamcatcher for a woven American Indian hanging charm with the power to snare nightmares. But as the story zigzags crazily across the map of New England, it never clarifies what crucial function the dreamcatcher plays as a metaphor or a plot device.

Apparently, 2 hours and 15 minutes aren't sufficient to adapt an 879-page Stephen King novel that pivots on menacing extraterrestrials and a mad-dog American military man (played in the movie by Morgan Freeman) and, of course, the combination of juvenile and arrested-male trauma, pathos and scatology that fueled the King-derived Stand by Me.

The director, Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the film with William Goldman, has talents for deadpan comedy and camaraderie. In the opening scenes introducing the male leads, Kasdan's actors display crack poker mugs as they demonstrate the drawbacks of telepathy and then bond in the backwoods. A Harvard-educated shrink (Thomas Jane) blurts out secret reasons for a patient's gluttony, then worries that the man can't take the truth; a car salesman (Timothy Olyphant) helps an attractive woman find her car keys, but does it with a super-human panache that scares her off. On the semi-positive side, a college professor (Damian Lewis) uses his mind-reading ability to empathize with a poor, struggling student - only to be lured that night by a vision into speeding traffic.

After this brisk, personality-filled introduction, an audience looks forward to seeing how this trio and their carpenter-slacker friend (the effortlessly hilarious Jason Lee) pool their paranormal resources to overcome the terrors awaiting them during their annual hunting trip in the wilds of Maine. (The dreamcatcher hangs in their cabin.) But their telepathy enters the action only in a stop-and-go, haphazard way; it's rooted in the help they gave decades before to a prophetically gifted but otherwise mentally challenged tyke who grew up to be Donnie Wahlberg.

The storytelling must lurch back and forth in time to seal the connection between this strange, affecting kid and an apparent invasion by nauseating aliens, including some that grow inside the human body and exit as toothy reptiles, from the rectum. This leads to a few piquant low gags. But the prospect of a sophisticated sci-fi/horror flick soon goes down the toilet.

The character-work ceases with the intro; the notion of group destiny becomes the fraying twine holding a bundle of chaotic set pieces and subplots together. The movie never completely loses its professionalism or sense of humor - there are some nifty scenes set in the college teacher's mind, especially when he's rummaging around his moldy library-like "memory warehouse."

Too bad Dreamcatcher amounts to a pastiche of better films like the original The Thing and both versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It ransacks the audience's memory warehouse.

Sun Score: **

Dreamcatcher

Starring Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Lee

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Rated R

Released by Warner Bros.

Time 135 minutes

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