As long as you don’t expect it to make much sense, Dreamcatcher is a bright spot of silliness in unsilly times. From what I gather, quite a bit of the Stephen King book has gotten lost in the translation; I haven’t read it, so I was free to enjoy the movie as a creature feature involving, among other things, slimy, toothy worms that issue forth, in a crescendo of blood and gas, from their victims’ recta. My taste in horror movies, I admit, is low and shabby enough for this bizarre detail to have won me over, though the film has nothing else comparably entertaining up its sleeve. I wonder what director Lawrence Kasdan, who made such high-toned dramas as Grand Canyon and The Accidental Tourist, was thinking about as he set up the scene with the alien in the toilet.
King likes to assemble a group of (male) friends haunted by their childhoods — see Stand by Me and It — and Dreamcatcher is no exception. Four guys — Henry (Thomas Jane), Beaver (Jason Lee, whose career has definitely led up to playing a guy named Beaver), Jonesy (Damian Lewis), and Pete (Timothy Olyphant) — head up to a remote cabin in snowy Derry, Maine, as they’ve done every year for the last twenty years. The area, it so happens, is under paramilitary quarantine; rogue commander Curtis (Morgan Freeman) is trying to isolate and destroy a vicious race of galactic visitors, though decades of E.T. hunting have left him a few pennies short of a dollar. This is a heartening return to villainy for Freeman — let’s not forget his breakthrough role as a heartless pimp in 1987’s Street Smart. But 1987 was a long time ago, and Freeman, working against dozens of noble past performances, just seems more irritable than usual.
The four guys have telepathic gifts, passed on to them by a retarded kid they once saved from bullies. Sometimes these gifts manifest themselves in interesting forms, as when Jonesy “calls” Henry on a handgun borrowed from ambivalent soldier Tom Sizemore. In what immediately became one of my all-time favorite mainstream forays into the surreal, the gun actually rings, and Henry chats away into it. And if you want first-class deadpan comedic genius, check out Tom Sizemore’s blandly inflected response after the call is done: “Give me back my gun.”
I also enjoyed Jason Lee’s nervous-tic characterization of Beaver, who scoops peanut butter out of the jar with his finger and is never without a toothpick between his teeth; while sitting on that toilet lid to keep the alien confined, Beaver must reach perilously to the floor for one of the few spilled toothpicks not floating in anal gore. Call me crude — I have to love a scene of suspense built around fallen toothpicks and a toilet monster.
Dreamcatcher eventually collapses under a barrage of exposition. The grown retarded kid, “Duddits” (Donnie Wahlberg), turns up to participate in the finale, carting his Scooby-Doo lunchbox and stuffed Scooby-Doo doll. Dreamcatcher is a Warner Bros. movie, as are the Scooby-Doo films, so I have no idea whether King’s book was similarly Scoobified or this is simply the most blatant cross-marketing ever. Perhaps King’s book also explains why the alien who takes over Jonesy’s body is known as Mr. Gray and speaks with an English accent, or what happens to all the alien-infected people quarantined in Derry, or why the recesses of Jonesy’s mind look like an overstuffed library archive (complete with X-rated fantasies filed by year). In fact, the more I think about this loud, confusing, borderline terrible, but cheesily enjoyable movie, the more I want to read the book. Just please don’t tell me the book doesn’t have any toilet monsters.