Don't Follow That 'Dream'
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Buy Dreamcatcher on DVD.
Something has changed in the past few years; Americans no longer want to wait two hours to know the solution to a mystery. Few films have the patience to keep the big surprise from us until the end of the movie.
Dark City did it, and Donnie Darko and Memento, but those films are tiny cult movies compared to the hit The Matrix, which explains every last detail to us in the first 40 minutes and finishes off with 80 minutes of chases, fights and shootouts.
And, yes, they're spectacular chases, fights and shootouts, which is why The Matrix still works. But the new Dreamcatcher does not sustain itself so well.
Adapted by William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan from Stephen King's novel, Dreamcatcher begins promisingly and, indeed, excitingly.
Four friends demonstrate a set of weird, otherworldly powers. One man, a psychiatrist Henry Devlin (Thomas Jane) makes a diagnosis before the patient has even told him anything. Another, Pete Moore (Timothy Olyphant) waves his finger around and locates a blond stranger's lost car keys.
A third, Jonesy (Damian Lewis) can organize his memories by visualizing them as boxes of files in a huge library. A fourth, Beaver (Jason Lee) calls Jonesy to warn him that something is about to happen -- just before Jonesy gets hit by a car.
These four friends assemble in a mountain cabin every year for a weekend of drinking and toasting to another unseen friend called Duddits. They keep using the anagram SSDD over and over again.
Things get weirder when a man lost in the woods turns up at their doorstep, having supposedly eaten some unidentified berries. His stomach is moving around and making some weird noises and he has an odd patch on his face that looks like red oatmeal.
All this takes about 40 minutes, and it's exquisite agony wondering what the heck is going on. We're afraid to blink lest we miss another juicy detail. And yet, at right around the 40 or 50-minute mark, the movie unloads almost all of its secrets and explains everything. (If you're planning on seeing the movie, stop reading here.)
It's all about beasties from another planet taking over the earth. It's that simple and boring. Filmmakers have been grinding out outer space beastie movies for 50 years, and this one isn't much different, except that the monster hatches from the human body via "the basement" and looks like a snake with lots of teeth.
Actually, the downhill slide also corresponds with the moment the first of the four friends dies, severing their unique friendship and the heart of the film.
That's when military lunatic Morgan Freeman shows up as a kind of "man in black" who hunts and kills aliens. Like certain politicians we could name, his solution is to blow everything up. Fortunately, his right-hand man (Tom Sizemore) clings to a bit of a conscience and tries to do the right thing.
Screenwriter Goldman has adapted two other King novels -- Misery and Hearts in Atlantis -- and has come out ahead on both deals. He and director Kasdan very nearly keep the second half of Dreamcatcher going as if by pure will alone. It helps that the mysterious Duddits doesn't turn up until the final act.
But in retrospect, the 136-minute Dreamcatcher has a lot of missed chances and wasted time. The four friends barely get enough time to develop a camaraderie, and the alien hunter characters get even less time. The alien beastie's antics are pretty disgusting and hugely out of proportion with the sweet, good-natured parts of the film; and the genuine scares are generally of the "jump/shock" variety and occur rarely.
So even though it lets us down, a good chunk of it is still worth seeing. Even better, Warner Brothers is premiering the first in a series of animated Matrix shorts, appropriately titled The Animatrix. The first short, Final Flight of the Osiris, is awfully cool and worth sitting through the Dreamcatcher closing credits for.