[Screen It]

(2003) (Thomas Jane, Morgan Freeman) (R)

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Horror: Four lifelong friends who share telepathic gifts must deal with what appears to be an alien invasion.
Henry (THOMAS JANE), Beaver (JASON LEE), Jonesy (DAMIAN LEWIS) and Pete (TIMOTHY OLYPHANT) are lifelong friends who share telepathic gifts given to them in their childhood by Duddits (ANDREW ROBB), a mentally challenged boy they saved from some bullies. After an accident nearly leaves Jonesy dead, the men make their annual pilgrimage to their cabin in the woods of Maine during the middle of the winter.

While apart in two groups, the men come across two individuals in the snow who simply don't seem right. That eventually leads to encounters with various otherworldly creatures that seem intent on killing or taking over their bodies and using them as hosts.

That doesn't sit well with Col. Abraham Curtis (MORGAN FREEMAN) or his right-hand man, Owen (TOM SIZEMORE), who've worked for years in a secret department of the U.S. Army dealing with extraterrestrial incursions on Earth. They and their team have quarantined an area around the men's cabin and are intent on not letting anyone or anything - human or not - from leaving the area and possibly infecting the rest of the world.

As the men try to figure out what's going on and avoid the alien attacks, they attempt to contact Duddits (DONNIE WAHLBERG) who may be able to help them, all while having to deal with the increasingly volatile and unsteady Curtis and the decisions he makes.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
One of the more memorable elements of the alien invasion comedy "Men in Black" was Vincent D'Onofrio playing a farmer whose body had been taken over by an extraterrestrial "bug." While trying to maintain the semblance of being human, he stumbled and bumbled around and obviously didn't look comfortable trying to keep all of his various parts in balance.

Perhaps that's the explanation behind everything that's wrong with "Dreamcatcher." The adaptation of Stephen King's 1999 novel of the same name, the work feels as if unsure and awkward aliens took over the bodies of most everyone in front of and behind the camera. That might explain the bad and/or misguided acting, melodramatic dialogue, jumbled editing and unwieldy direction from the guy who once helmed "Body Heat" and "The Big Chill."

Yes, Lawrence Kasdan , along with co-screenwriter William Goldman (who's previously adapted King's works in "Misery" and "Hearts in Atlantis" while also writing "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and The "Princess Bride"), has decided to tackle King's novel, but the result belies the men's previous fabulous works.

That only reinforces the takeover notion, as it appears that extraterrestrial poseurs not only helmed the project, but also raided a plethora of other films for material and/or inspiration. While watching this messy and overlong effort, viewers are apt to be reminded of "Men in Black," "The Thing," the "Alien" films, "Tremors," "Outbreak," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "The X-Files" and even King's "Stand By Me."

While I haven't read the source novel, the plot is similar to other King works that feature adults who bonded as kids over some sort of supernatural or otherworldly event. Despite being rather cinematic in terms of telling his stories in a visual sense, the majority of King's novels don't translate that well to the big screen, and that certainly seems to be the case here.

Whereas the flashbacks and various subplots probably worked well together in a more seamless fashion, they don't on the screen. For instance, the film's portrayal of one character's memories and thought processes - visualized as a large library filled with all sorts of labeled files, et al. - is intriguing, but it never pays off.

When an alien takes over his body, the character retreats into that library - trapped in his own mind and body - and appears to pull files to do battle with the intruder. Yet, that never amounts to anything and is pretty much wasted. The same holds true for visualizing the split personality scenes within the character that Kasdan fumbles (and which aren't anywhere as effective as similar ones in the latest "Lord of the Rings" film).

The result of that and the rest of the material is the feeling that a large number of disparate stories are being told, but don't fit together as well as they should or could. Since the film is all over the place, momentum is never maintained and the picture rarely clicks in any of its various aspects.

That said, the film opens in an okay fashion where we see the four main characters - played by Thomas Jane ("The Sweetest Thing," "Original Sin"), Jason Lee ("A Guy Thing," "Stealing Harvard"), Damian Lewis ("Robinson Crusoe," various TV mini-series) and Timothy Olyphant ("Rock Star," "Head Over Heels") - and note their apparent supernatural senses.

A car mows down one and six months later the story moves to a cabin in some snowy environs where a large, multi-species animal migration occurs. That's followed by a rather memorable if gross bathroom scene and our interest in piqued about what's happening and what will next occur.

Unfortunately, that involves the subplot of Morgan Freeman ("The Sum of All Fears," "High Crimes") and Tom Sizemore ("Black Hawk Down," "Saving Private Ryan") playing some extraterrestrial containment specialists. That eventually leads to all of the alien invader bits and that's when the film completely unravels. Freeman's character is supposed to be a newly volatile loose cannon, but his character is poorly drawn and the otherwise reliable actor delivers an awful performance.

While the gross-out and monster style material humor is obvious - and occasionally effective - I'm not convinced that the melodramatic and horribly written and delivered dialogue is also intentional. If it is, it simply doesn't work, but at least that's more acceptable than imagining that the filmmakers weren't going for camp.

Meanwhile, the "Stand By Me" type material - told in flashback and used to explain what's happening or has transpired in the present - has potential as it features four kids who befriend an apparently mentally challenged boy with some sort of supernatural gift. Unfortunately, those scenes are scattershot at best and don't really deliver the sort of kick they're apparently designed to do.

As far as the performances are concerned, Lewis gets the "meatiest" role playing the split personality character, but that mostly consists of alternating between American and British accents. The biggest problem is that the alien "Mr. Gray" persona is barely developed and thus doesn't engage the viewer. Sizemore is wasted, while Jane, Lee and Olyphant are okay, but nothing special. Donnie Wahlberg ("The Sixth Sense," "Ransom") shows up late in the film as their former friend, but the only thing remarkable about that is that he looks like a rugged version of ice skater Scott Hamilton.

Beyond the fact that we've seen this sort of story - or stories to be more accurate - many times before, Kasdan and company simply can't get a handle on all of those elements and make them work as a cohesive whole. Add in the various problems - intentional or not - and the result is a mostly ineffective, overlong and jumbled mess of a movie. "Dreamcatcher" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed March 18, 2003 / Posted March 21, 2003

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