Mark Reviews Movies


Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Cast: Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Morgan Freeman, Tom Sizemore, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant, Donnie Wahlberg

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, gore and language)

Running Time: 2:16

Release Date: 3/21/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

I was talking to a friend of mine about Dreamcatcher and its literary origins after seeing the film adaptation. We both found a whole lot of Stephen King in its story and agreed that, while watching the movie, we were filling in the blanks. Neither of us has read the novel on which it's based, but King is such a famous and distinct author that you really needn't have read any of his work to know his stuff. We also now share a great interest in reading the book and seeing what was left out. We're both convinced that the script by director Lawrence Kasdan and William Goldman must have eliminated the development of its characters and story. The thing that I'm most convinced of, though, is that somewhere along the line, the filmmakers have lost King's sense of humor. This material features a cornucopia of King's favorite themes and ideas, and I can't help but sense the author nudging himself in the ribs as he goes through it. The movie has no sense of that whatsoever and instead decides to play it straight. The result is quite humorous but for all the wrong reasons.

Four friends share a secret from their childhood that has affected their entire lives. Dr. Henry Devlin (Thomas Jane) is a psychiatrist who can read minds. Gary "Jonesy" Jones (Damian Lewis) is a college professor with a vast "memory warehouse" (the realization of this concept is interesting, but it seems out of place) that can store, destroy, and hide whatever information he has learned. Then there are two other friends Joe "Beaver" Clarendon (Jason Lee) and Pete Moore (Timothy Olyphant), who don't have any distinct exposition scene, so we can assume they won't be too important later on (both essentially serve as comic relief). Well, Jonesy, one of the important friends, gets hit by a speeding car as he crosses the street to meet, what he thinks is, an old childhood friend. Actually, he's more than a childhood friend, but because the explanation sounds so ridiculous in my head, I can't force myself to write it out. Take my word that he has to do with the friends' special powers. Anyway, six months later, the four friends get together at a cabin in the woods of Maine for an annual hunting trip. Everything is going well until the Beav discovers a lost hunter in the forest.

That hunter has been infected by something; he has a nasty red rash and really bad gas (You're telling me this isn't meant to be funny?). Whatever suspense the movie may have been developing until this point is ruined once the hunter has been disposed off and the true nature of the infection is revealed. The infection is really the spores of an alien creature that has infected the area (they also lay eggs—go figure). The main problem is that the movie reveals the creatures too soon, and nothing is left to the imagination. On top of it, unless the sight of bad CG makes you cringe, these monsters aren't scary. They take the form of big worms with giant teeth, but apparently they grow and look like the typical extra-terrestrial. Then again, maybe that's only the ring-leader, called Mr. Grey, who eventually overtakes Jonesy's mind. The military comes into play, in the form of a secret division led by Col. Abraham Curtis (Morgan Freeman), and eventually one realizes that there is simply too much going on here to be compacted into a movie running at two hours and fifteen minutes. The focus is all over the place; obviously, Kasdan and Goldman wanted to try and fit as much as they could from the source material. As a result, they sacrifice coherency.

The truncation results in weak characters; many of their actions and developments are unconvincing, leading to some dumbfounding head-scratching or head-slapping moments. Take the Beav's attempt to recover a toothpick while guarding a monster trapped in a toilet. True, his character always has a toothpick in his mouth, but when you're sitting on a toilet that contains a monster strong enough to knock you off the seat, couldn't the toothpick wait? It's a ludicrously forced scene. All of these people are merely cutouts, and they only act in ways that will advance the plot. The dialogue is equally terrible, from Col. Curtis calling everyone "Bucko" to the Beav's just plain abnormal interjections. Sometimes these things work on the page, but when spoken aloud, you either need really good actors to pull it off or a rewrite. Since the latter obviously never happened, it's important to note that these actors don't do well with it. I suppose Morgan Freeman's performance is worth watching, simply because he plays a villain, but aside from Damian Lewis, who does the most he can with the split personality of Jonesy and Mr. Grey, the performances are just awkward.

For all of our agreements, my friend and I did disagree on one major point of Dreamcatcher. He enjoyed it, and I, obviously, thought it was pretty awful. I am fairly convinced this would have made a really good satire. Maybe the novel doesn't have such aspirations, and the movie is simply a simplified, truncated mess. Then again, maybe Kasdan and Goldman's intention was satire. Whatever their aim—straightforward or tongue-in-cheek—they have failed.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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