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Dreamcatcher (March 30/03)

Dreamcatcher is one of the most bizarre mainstream Hollywood movies ever. Sure, there have been weirder films produced by fringe elements (ie John Waters' flicks), but Dreamcatcher surely represents the oddest big-budget movie aimed at the masses.

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Dreamcatcher seems more like an amalgam of his earlier work than an entirely new piece of fiction. As the film opens, we meet four lifelong friends - Henry Devlin (Thomas Jane), Joe "Beaver" Clarendon (Jason Lee), Gary "Jonesy" Jones (Damian Lewis), and Pete Moore (Timothy Olyphant) - all of whom seem to share an unusual ability for knowing things they really shouldn't. A few months after Jonesy recovers from being hit by a car, the group decides to take a trip out into the mountains to let loose and reminisce. But once they get out there, some seriously strange stuff starts to happen.

Though the film initially seems like it's going to be a riff on The Big Chill with some elements of Stand By Me thrown in, it's not long before it becomes a full-blown freak fest. And it's not as though the genre-hopping is the sole reason for Dreamcatcher's descent into crazy town; it's the manner by which the script approaches the unusual aspects of the story. There's this whole thing - easily the most ludicrous aspect of the film - featuring Jonesy's "memory warehouse" which probably worked on the page, but is just laughable on screen. Due to his psychic powers (presumably), Jonesy's trained himself to actually move about within his own memories - everything's stored in files inside a cluttered warehouse - so when he inevitably becomes possessed by an alien parasite midway through, we see Jonesy hanging out inside his own head. So, as the occupied Jonesy does his thing, we see the human Jonesy keeping an eye on things by looking out a window from inside the warehouse. It's an incredibly silly way of indicating that Jonesy's consciousness is trapped inside his own body.

The movie is peppered with similarly absurd occurrences, including the fact that the alien that's now controlling Jonesy is named Mr. Gray and has a British accent. If that's not enough to invite Mystery Science Theater 3000-esque mocking, I don't know what is. And incredibly enough, Dreamcatcher's been directed by Lawrence Kasdan and written by William Goldman and Kasdan. How they managed to churn out such a ridiculous film is beyond explanation. Had the film been stripped of the more outrageous plot twists, it still wouldn't have worked all that well - mostly due to overlength and shoddy character development. This is a movie that casts Jason Lee - one of the most interesting and charismatic actors working today - without bothering to give him a halfway decent character to play. Why is he nicknamed Beaver? We never find out, nor do we discover why he's so obsessed with chomping on toothpicks or the reasoning behind his odd manner of speech. He's a caricature more than anything else, and seemingly exists only to die.

By the time Morgan Freeman shows up as an insane military colonel who's been kicking alien ass for over 25 years, it's pretty clear that Stephen King must have been hopped up on some serious painkillers when he came up with this storyline (and that's entirely possible, as it was the first novel he wrote after his infamous accident.) Sporting hilariously bushy eyebrows and packing John Wayne's pistol (no, really), Freeman tries admirably to give a muted performance but is severely undermined by the increasingly out-there screenplay. As a creature feature, the film might work if you've never seen Alien or any of its sequels (a link which is noted in the film, when a character makes a reference to Sigourney Weaver's Ripley). Really, though, Dreamcatcher is just too off-the-wall to ever become anything more than a cult item.

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