- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

Dreamcatcher" tests the ingenuity of director Lawrence Kasdan and numerous top-flight craftsmen, including scores of special-effects designers and animators at Industrial Light & Magic, while transposing a science-fiction best seller by Stephen King.
The author appears to draw on elements from "Stand by Me," a fable of juvenile camaraderie derived from a King novella and filmed in 1986 by Rob Reiner, while borrowing the sort of horror spectacle that distinguished Ridley Scott's "Alien" and John Carpenter's remake of "The Thing" as cinematic gut checks of 1979 and 1982, respectively.
Perhaps the fact that James Cameron's "Aliens" also was released in 1986 contributed to a proprietary sense of opportunism in Mr. King.
As a practical matter, the new movie proves a doomsday monstrosity, destined to become more laborious and insufferable the longer it strings out an entrapment premise for suspenseful uncertainty or graphically appalling impact.
Adapted by William Goldman and Mr. Kasdan, compressing a King tome of about 600 pages, the scenario strands a quartet of lifelong friends in and near a hunting cabin in Maine, ostensibly the site of annual reunions. This one coincides with an alien invasion that threatens mass contamination and slaughter by creatures that take a number of loathsome forms, most frequently as chubby, slithering eels whose maws open to reveal a nasty profusion of teeth.
You would be surprised how many characters need to poke their faces really, really close to the eel snouts before being chomped.
The infestation also attracts an Air Cavalry unit commanded by Morgan Freeman as a dedicated fanatic, Col. Abe Curtis, verging on pathological ruthlessness after a generation of clandestine stalking and eradication of alien menaces. It becomes one of the movie's running gags that several characters go off their rockers while confronting the winter plague of eel monsters. The estimable Mr. Freeman has drawn one of the prime candidates for terminal dementia. Hollywood alarmism in this genre wouldn't be complete without a treacherous or gravely misguided martinet.
The hairstylist was encouraged to get in on the gag: Mr. Freeman is given an elevated flattop and unruly eyebrows that seem to anticipate a dire flipping of the old wig.
The expository scenes introduce the four friends as psychics of intriguing magnitude: Thomas Jane is psychiatrist Henry Devlin, observed reading the mind of a tiresome, whiny patient; Damian Lewis is history professor Gary Jones, Jonesy to his pals, observed dealing with a student who cheated on an exam; Timothy Olyphant is car salesman Pete Moore, observed restoring the lost keys of a customer and hoping to cash in romantically on his demonstration of amazing deductive powers; and Jason Lee is carpenter Joe Clarendon, better known as Beaver, who feels some premonitory alarm about Jonesy.
After the group settles into the cabin, a flashback accounts for their boyhood friendship, transformed in a benevolent and then mystical way when they protect a handicapped boy named Douglas Cavell, familiarly Duddy or Duddits, from being bullied. Ultimately, the Duddy link proves indispensable to countering the alien infestation.
The initial outburst follows a good-Samaritan encounter near the cabin. Jonesy takes in a lost stranger suffering from some kind of extreme gastric distress. While being sheltered, the visitor soon leaves the surroundings in a slaughterhouse condition. Echoing the misfortune of John Hurt in "Alien," the sufferer discharges the first of the ravenous monsters on the menu.
"Dreamcatcher" looks confident and incisive during the setup phase of the freakout, but the elements start to scatter all over the woods and different time frames once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. An awful lot of chasing around starts to hinge on the discovery that one character in particular has become the host for a shape-shifting big daddy of an alien.
The hit list begins to look both arbitrary and excessive as attention alternates between the original pals, no longer retained as a cohesive and diverting group, and the detention area where Col. Curtis nears some kind of breakdown, closely watched by his deputy, Tom Sizemore as a gallant officer named Owen Underhill.
Upping the ante on peril, revulsion and deliverance doesn't seem to be a winning strategy for "Dreamcatcher." If anything, you're reminded of how much more compact and effective the causes for dread and the heroic countermeasures were in both "Alien" and "Aliens."
Not to mention how uncompromising John Carpenter chose to be while putting a snowbound group of defenders on the spot with an infernal source of contamination. The final showdown in "Dreamcatcher" is overburdened with sideshows. It also becomes more confusing than reassuring, in part because the special effects appear to blur the opponents while magnifying them.
Two cast members come fresh from memorable performances in the "Band of Brothers" series: Mr. Lewis, the English actor who played the exemplary Maj. Winters, and Donnie Wahlberg, who was the hard-nosed 2nd Lt. Lipton. They have to finesse the trickiest roles in "Dreamcatcher," which proves easier for Mr. Wahlberg, deployed as a semisecret weapon and cleverly camouflaged even when he enters the fray. I think it's fair to say he steals the show.
I'm not convinced it's a prize worth envying.

**
TITLE: "Dreamcatcher"
RATING: R (Graphic violence with gruesome or repulsive illustrative details; occasional profanity and vulgarity; fleeting sight gags predicated on urination or intestinal chaos)
CREDITS: Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Screenplay by William Goldman, based on a novel by Stephen King. Cinematography by John Seale. Production design by Jon Hutman. Costume design by Molly Maginnis. Visual effects by Stefen Fangmeier. Music by James Newton Howard.
RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes

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