I was charmed by the trailer for Dreamcatcher where bunnies, bears, deer and raccoons hot-foot it out of the snow-covered Maine forest before the eyes of two enchanted onlookers. Lesson learned: Don't be seduced by charming trailers, or by the fact that a director you have liked in the past made the film. In this case, the director is the perennially good-natured Lawrence Kasdan (Grand Canyon, Mumford), adapting a Stephen King novel with screenwriter William Goldman who penned the fabulous Misery. The result of this collaboration is a sloppy, bloody mess that's more confusing than scary.
Instead of the promised wildlife spectacle, of which we get about 30 seconds, the central creature of Dreamcatcher is an alien that looks like an engorged, uncircumcised penis with a little slit of a mouth that opens to reveal rows of razor-sharp teeth. This charming invader insinuates itself into unsuspecting hunters and other Maine backwoods sorts, then galumphs about in the host body's chest and abdomen, swelling in size, until it finally comes out the back side in a bloody, climactic bowel movement, then slithers off leaving a trail of bloody snow slime behind. Once you've seen this gory spectacle, or when you've seen it 20 times, the story, as it is, begins to dissolve into the less bloody and spectacular background.
Four 30-something friends reunite every year in a Maine cabin to hunt, tell fart jokes, commiserate about their jobs and to remember the delicate childhood friend whose unique powers of extrasensory perception bind them and their altered minds together. They are Jonesy (Damian Lewis), a professor; Beaver (Jason Lee); a carpenter, Pete (Timothy Olyphant), a used-car salesman; and Henry (Thomas Jane), a psychiatrist. Two will survive the alien onslaught and two will get their gonads chopped off by the toothy invaders -- can you guess which? King and Kasdan betray their deeply democratic tendencies in Dreamcatcher, despite the breathless disclaimer of one antagonist, a soldier charged with keeping alien-invaded bodies from infecting the general population: "These are people who drive Chevrolets, shop at Wal-Mart and never miss an episode of Friends," he declares. "I don't want to kill 'em but I will if I have to."
The friend the four men gather to remember each year is Dudditz, a sweet retarded boy our four heroes rescued from some bullying football players many years back, and who imparted his ability to read minds and predict events to the unwitting adolescents. We assume that Dudditz is dead since the guys don't invite him up to the cabin, but no, we eventually find out that he is living with his sainted mother in his childhood bedroom, dying of leukemia and boredom. Some friends.
Dreamcatcher wanders back and forth, from sci-fi thriller to Big Chill love fest to gastrointestinal gross-out, and the audience is left scratching its collective head, trying to fit the disparate pieces together. Morgan Freeman appears, with bushy eyebrow implants, as a crazed special agent who has been fighting the dreaded creature for 25 years. The final standoff has to do with the Boston water supply, a slimy little worm, helicopter gun fire and Dudditz (Donnie Wahlberg) turning into a formidable beast, while still carrying his Scooby-Doo lunchbox. Go figure. Or better yet, don't.
-- Kathryn Eastburn