"Dreamcatcher," from the Stephen King horror novel, plays like a Greatest Hits of His Career compilation, only very badly done, with more references to and quotes from his stories than even a dedicated academic could, or should, unravel. There's everything from "Cujo" (an Indian dreamcatcher construction) to "Carrie" (lots of projectile vomiting) to "Stand By Me" (four boys walking along the train tracks) to, yes, a major alien invasion. It even has Morgan Freeman, no doubt cast as an homage to an old friend from "Shawshank Redemption."
Cowritten and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, who has no talent for this kind of thing - early in his career he wrote the first three "Star Wars" films with wit and flash, then fizzled as a director with "The Big Chill," now unwatchable, and "Grand Canyon," dead on arrival. His cowriter here is the otherwise great William Goldman, whom we can thank for such delights as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "All the President's Men," and "The Princess Bride." But however the work was divided up, "Dreamcatcher" is about five different films shoehorned into a relentless two and a quarter hours.
Four young men, Henry, Beaver, Jonesy and Pete, played by Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis and Timothy Olyphant, meet at their jointly-owned cabin in the Maine woods for two weeks each winter (the film was actually shot in British Columbia). As boys, they each received the gift of telepathic communication from a retarded boy (Donnie Wahlberg) they saved from some bullies, and early in the film we see that they can read minds, though otherwise they are mostly beer-swilling assholes whose favorite comment to each other is the frequently repeated 'SSDD,' which stands for Same Shit, Different Day. Is that cute or what?
Maybe I'm taking a critic's license here, but because they're assholes, the film foreshadows the way and the place in which the aliens will enter the bodies of their victims. And once they do, uh-oh. We see distended bellies squirming with the creatures inside, we hear more farts than are heard in any dozen episodes of "South Park;" and while one of the intrepid four is pissing the letters SSDD in the snow, we see the alien wormlike creature rising out of the snow to bite him where it really hurts.
But there's more - oh, so much more. First there's the short sequence in which a parade of animals out of a Disney short marches through the snow outside the cabin. "Where are they going?" asks one of the guys. "What are they running from?" answers his friend. Then there's Morgan Freeman as, believe it or not, Colonel Kurtz, the leader of the American army's resistance to the alien invasion ("I've been fighting them for 25 years," he says to his aide Captain Owen (Tom Sizemore). And he is to be removed by the army, apparently with extreme prejudice, as was, you'll recall, an earlier film namesake. No doubt for plot reasons, the alien who invades Jonesy decides not to eat him up but to take over his mind instead, which now speaks with a kind of lordly British accent, forcing poor Jonesy to retreat into his childhood warehouse of memories, poking his voice out from time to time.
There are so many non-sequiturs in the film we have to believe they were put in deliberately, as a kind of comment on the illogic of the plot. But there are so many more unintended mistakes, we can never relax and enjoy it. "Dreamcatcher" is too bizarre to be taken seriously but too unfocussed to laugh at.