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Dooms day

Stephen King's book forms the foundation for 'Dreamcatcher' Ñ and its downfall

There's a good movie buried beneath all the nonsense and hullabaloo of 'Dreamcatcher,' the latest film to be forged from the tireless Stephen King fiction factory. The question, however, is this: Do you have what it takes to slog through the plot inconsistencies, bad dialogue and recycled King story lines to find the nuggets of gold?

Screenwriter William Goldman has created something of a cottage industry for himself in adapting King's stories, previously cranking out scripts for 'Misery' and 'Hearts in Atlantis.' He's a good screenwriter and has proved himself gifted at adapting unwieldy novels by all sorts of writers. The thing is, perhaps this one never should have been adapted at all.

The main problem with 'Dreamcatcher' (and there are many) is that Goldman was working with a bloated, convoluted, ridiculous novel that featured about five different story lines Ñ in both past and present tense Ñ happening simultaneously. That Goldman managed to make any sense of King's 600-page mess at all is the film's biggest achievement. Especially when you consider that all of the story's primary elements are pasted together from earlier, better King tales.

Four childhood pals (think 'Stand by Me') save a boy with Down syndrome from a beating by the local bullies. The boy, nicknamed 'Duddits' for his mispronunciation of his own name, passes on special gifts of telepathy to his new friends, which they retain into adulthood.

The boys remain friends for 20 years Ñ like the kids in 'It' Ñ and on their yearly hunting trip, they get snowed in at their mountain cabin ('The Shining').

And then the aliens crash-land. Like in 'The Tommyknockers.'

Written by King after he was smashed to bits by a van driver on the side of a Maine highway, the story is brutally obsessed with physical impairment and bodily functions. One of the group, Jonesy (Damian Lewis), is recovering from a similar accident to King's when he comes to the cabin; Pete (Timothy Olyphant), like King himself, 'has problems with alcohol' Ñ and suffers a broken leg when he and the suicidal Henry (Thomas Jane) roll their sport utility vehicle in the snow. The adult Duddits (an unrecognizable Donnie Wahlberg) is dying of leukemia.

In addition, we're treated to aliens who start out as parasitic worms that exit explosively from their victim's bowels Ñ before turning into enormous, eel-like creatures with vagina dentata for mouths.

The aliens' goal appears to be to infect the Earth with some sort of blood-colored, flesh-eating virus that spreads like wildfire. Or something like that. As stated previously, this is a convoluted movie with little logic to the story.

Visits to Jonesy's 'memory warehouse' inside his head are a clever touch, but then everything stops dead for idiot melodrama when the evil military guys (as in, oh, almost every King story ever) show up. Morgan Freeman plays crazy-mean Col. Curtis, who calls everyone 'bucko' or 'laddie' and has been made insane by 25 years of battling aliens. Tom Sizemore backs him up as 'Mr. Exposition Man' so the two can have long conversations about the aliens purely for our benefit.

With a nod to John Carpenter's 'The Thing,' director Lawrence Kasdan offers moments of creepy horror and genuine fun throughout the proceedings. But they're small moments, buried within a roiling mess of a story that, much like the bowel parasites and the flesh-eating virus, was obviously beyond his control.