Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dreamcatcher

2.5/4

Starring: Thomas Jane, Damien Lewis, Morgan Freeman, Timothy Olyphant, Tom Sizemore, Jason Lee, Andrew Robb, Donnie Wahlberg

Rated R for Violence, Gore and Language

"Dreamcatcher" doesn't work.  Let's get that out of the way.  While there are some effective moments and some intriguing ideas, co-writer/director Lawrence Kasdan can't make them all fit into one cohesive whole.  If a movie is like a completed jigsaw puzzle, "Dreamcatcher" would be one with a few pieces off to the side.

Henry (Jane), Beaver (Lee), Jonesy (Lewis) and Pete (Olyphant) have been best friends for twenty years.  In addition to growing up in Derry, Maine, the four share something else together: they are telepathically linked.  Through the gifts of their friend Duddits (Robb), the four can read minds and can find anything with ease.  They also have (literal) libraries of all their memories.  One night after Jonesy nearly dies after being hit by a car, the four friends make a return journey to their remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of hunting, beer and bonding.  While about to snag a deer, Jonesy comes across a man stranded in the woods.  Obviously in dire need of assistance, he takes the man back to the cabin for a little TLC.  But what he doesn't know is that the man with terrible flatulence and a strange rash isn't just sick, he's carrying an alien parasite.  Meanwhile, an independent branch of the military, led by the deranged Col. Abraham Curtis (Freeman) knows of the parasite, and is willing to use any means necessary to prevent the extinction of the human race.

"Dreamcatcher" is a hybrid of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Stand by Me," and "E.T."  If that sounds like a strange concoction, well, it is.  There is far too much going on for one movie, even if it's stretched to a way-too-long two hours.  I suppose that's a result of trying to squeeze an 800+ page book into a single film, but I give kudos to Kasdan and William Goldman for the attempt.  It takes chances, which is more than can be said for many movies these days (especially in the horror genre).  They don't always work, but there are some that do.

The most intriguing element of the film is the link between the four friends.  Paradoxically, it's the film's biggest weakness.  It's not adequately explained, and at times, feels like a crutch for the filmmakers rather than an integral part of the story.  There are a few obvious contrivances that can only happen because of this link.  That said, it leads to some solid moments, such as when Jonesy is trapped by the alien in his mental library.  Or how the friends communicate simultaneously with the alien and Jonesy.  It sounds ridiculous in a review, but if you watch the film it makes sense.  Sort of.

The acting is a mixed bag; some performances work, others not so much.  The two best performances are by Damian Lewis (pre-"Homeland") and Timothy Olyphant.  Lewis has a difficult role; he must play a man with two very different personalities and change them in a flash without the aid of computers or tricky editing.  He nails it.  Jonesy is a good average guy while Mr. Grey (the alien) is a cultured, sardonic maniac (who sounds eerily like John Cleese).  Lewis nails it.  And Timothy Olyphant shows up playing the next best lovable scoundrel to Harrison Ford.  Olyphant is a great character actor and always fun to watch.  The rest of the cast members are forgettable or awful.  Jason Lee is okay, but has so little screen time that it's hard to remember that he's in it.  Thomas Jane is as wooden as he's ever been.  Morgan Freeman is surprisingly lacking.  The legendary actor can always be counted on to give a good performance, even in bad movies like "Chain Reaction" or the overrated Oscar bait "Million Dollar Baby."  Here, he's flat and at times awful.

Undoubtedly, the screenplay is the film's biggest weakness.  In addition to trying to do too much and in poor balance, the dialogue is occasionally stilted.  I'm not against dialogue that you wouldn't hear on the street (Quentin Tarantino's movies are a good example), but here, there are many lines that feel...off.  They're not clunkers, they just feel like they were written with someone who has somewhat of a tin ear for dialogue.  And some of the violence and gore feels gratuitous and made me feel a little squirmy.  And not in a good way.

"Dreamcatcher" is a mixed bag, but at least it's not a total loss.  There are far worse horror movies out there.  It's not as good as "IT" or "Storm of the Century," but it's better than "Thinner" or "Cujo."

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