Movie review by Greg Carlson

Like many cinematic translations of the work of Stephen King, “Dreamcatcher” dabbles in so many side-trips and diversions that the result is one rather large, rather sticky mess. Paring down an 800-plus page novel into reasonable feature film length is a challenge no matter how you slice it up, but even the legendary William Goldman (who has already done time on S.K. drive with scripts for “Misery” and “Hearts in Atlantis”) cannot wrap his formidable pen around the sprawl. Goldman, along with director Lawrence Kasdan, never figures out how to unpack King’s behemoth, and the result is alternately tedious and laughable.

With echoes of “Stand By Me,” “Dreamcatcher” begins with a quartet of childhood friends whose adult lives lack the warmth, magic, and wonder they shared as kids. Jonesy (Damian Lewis), Beaver (Jason Lee), Henry (Thomas Jane), and Pete (Timothy Olyphant) once rescued a mentally retarded boy from some sadistic bullies, and were rewarded with the supernatural ability to communicate with each other telepathically and see into the future. Douglas Cavell, the victim of the bullies, has difficulty pronouncing his name, and is affectionately called “Duddits” by his protectors (who begin to recognize that there is something extraordinary about their new friend).

The now grown men don’t have much contact with Duddits anymore, but the powers bestowed upon them all those years ago have not faded with age. The foursome retreats to a rustic getaway in the woods of Maine for an annual hunting trip, but things do not turn out as expected when a bloated, disoriented hunter with a wicked, blistering facial rash shows up. Before you can say “Dumb and Dumber,” the hunter is letting loose with some of the most extensive screen flatulence this side of “Blazing Saddles,” and the audience laughs in spite of itself.

The chuckles rapidly dissipate into disgust, however, when the hunter’s rectum explodes, absurdly shifting the tone of the movie into high sci-fi outer space beastie mode. With more than a nod to “Alien,” “Dreamcatcher” decides about halfway in that it is supposed to be a “bugs on the run” movie. Seems that hunter didn’t just have gas – he was playing intestinal host to a nasty, eel-like extraterrestrial with rows of jagged teeth. Pretty soon the U.S. military is involved, as a “black ops” unit led by veteran alien hunter Colonel Curtis (Morgan Freeman, slumming) descends to quarantine the area.

Most people will have given up on “Dreamcatcher” by this point (the movie jettisons the significance of its own title in favor of set pieces that show off the slimy CG effects shots), but Kasdan and Goldman are just getting warmed up. Inexplicably, Curtis goes completely insane just as the alien invasion problem begins to pick up steam. Kasdan never gets a handle on how to pace such a grab-bag of disparate elements, and the appearance of a grown-up version of Duddits (played by Donnie Wahlberg) in the eleventh hour is predictable down to the outcome of the final confrontation with the uber-alien.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/24/03.

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