Dreamcatcher (2003) — Stephen King in his slump phase

“I, Duddits!”

Justin’s rating: I keep waiting for Stephen King’s promised Ben Franklin biography from that Simpsons episode

Justin’s review: The best-kept secret about Stephen King has nothing to do with his skill at portraying freaky horror. Beyond the psychopathic clowns, killer dogs, and homicidal cars, King deftly weaves a world of believable, likable and (naturally) flawed characters unlike much of what mainstream Hollywood punches out. In fact, one of King’s central themes shares a common literary sibling in the Harry Potter novels: True friendship is a powerful weapon against evil.

Dreamcatcher (the movie) is quite faithful to Dreamcatcher (the novel), which is a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. Like the novel, the film begins with intense foreboding and striking scenes of apprehension, building up to something nail biting-worthy. And like the novel, the film kicks the bucket in the final act with a weak climax and a plethora of plot holes.

The film introduces us to an incredibly likable quartet of friends, who find themselves mysteriously involved with mentally challenged prodigy “Duddits” since their childhood. Dr. Henry Devlin (Thomas “I was in the original Buffy movie” Jane), Beaver (Jason “Banky” Lee), Jonesy (Damian “Band of Redheads” Lewis) and Pete (Timothy “Not elephant” Olyphant) are generally nice guys, gifted with a sort of second-sight from Duddits that gives them the edge in Vegas.

Now, the gang travels up to a cabin in snowy New England to spend some quality time playing backgammon and discussing the finer works of Russian literature over a nice ’83 Vinsanto. Perhaps you might read that as “hunting” and “eating grilled cheese,” but my interpretation is valid nonetheless. As soon as they arrive, strange things show up knocking, such as a disoriented belching hunter, a mass exodus of animals, and military helicopters zipping about overhead.

I’m of the strong opinion that the entire movie should have centered around the cabin locale. They had all the elements of your standard horror flick: an isolated place deep in the woods, heavy snowfall blocking the roads, and no way to contact civilization. In fact, the scariest part of Dreamcatcher takes place early on in this cabin, involving a locked bathroom door and something you really, really don’t want to see coming out from the toilet. Even in today’s age of incredibly sophisticated computer effects that can show gore in a hyper-realistic fashion, one of the best ways to keep the audience scared is to hint toward something horrible and not reveal it outright.

Unfortunately, all that goes kaput the second the alien fungus hits the fan and the movie expands like an X-Files plot. While I’m not in the mood to spoil this for you, let’s just say that not many of the four friends even live to see the second act. Thus, we get an acting vacuum that is filled with Morgan “Extreme Bushy Eyebrows” Freeman as a nutty military commander, Tom Sizemore as his candidate being groomed for alien slaughter, and Donnie “New Kid” Wahlberg thrusting his arms into the air and proclaiming like a drunken boxer that he is, indeed, Duddits.

The second half of the film — like the book — is nothing more than an extended chase. You see, the nasty aliens that want to invade earth apparently coat their spaceships with lead paint or something, because they don’t have a brain between the lot of them. They have this virulent fungus that can be used to infect earth creatures, and thereby reproduce some more alien critters in a way that is just like the chest-bursting scene in Alien, only not coming out the front. Yes, the scatological horror washes over the audience in waves, making them extremely grateful that Scratch ‘N Smell movies haven’t been invented yet.

So the aliens’ genius leader, perhaps inspired by the tactical maneuvers of Wiley E. Coyote, proceeds to land their ship in the middle of nowhere and THEN go on a trek of hundreds of miles to find a populated center. I don’t really think we needed the military to handle the aliens, as a well-armed Cub Scout troop could have outsmarted the grumpy extraterrestrials.

While the film’s heroes are a likable gang, it’s regrettable that we hardly get a chance to know them before they’re put through the grinder of implausible plot twists. Perhaps this isn’t King’s finest hour, but it will always make me look twice at the toilet the next time I gather the courage to use it.

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