Dreamcatcher

The magical retard and the psychic superfriends meet the toothy phallus
★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2003
Director: 
Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: 
Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Morgan Freeman
The Setup: 
Psychic friends network battles slimy alien invasion.
Discussion: 

You know, it is the power of a great bad movie to make us BELIEVE… that regardless of what happens, there could not possibly be worse movie out there than this one. Dreamcatcher is one of those things, a movie you stare at in appalled horror, uncomprehending how anyone could go forward with any portion of it without realizing what a tremendous turd it is. I had seen it at the theater when it was out—it was said to be scandalously bad even then—and, as these things often go, the passage of time has only made it look worse. So let’s get on with it!

We open with some credits that are actually quite nice; distorted wintry things like ice-covered pine needles and such. Then we join Henry, a psychologist played by Thomas Jane, an actor not exactly on the short list for an Oscar. He interprets that his overweight patient overeats to assuage his guilt at feeling like he killed his mother—information Henry has gained by psychically scanning the man’s mind. The patient is understandably miffed, and here the movie goes out of its way to take a cheap, ugly shot at the obese as it shows the couch collapse under the patient’s weight! Then Henry pulls a gun out of his desk and makes to kill himself! It’s almost always a bad sign when a character wants to kill themself in the first few minutes of your film. He is stopped by a call from Jonesy, one of his good longtime buds. They and two others are going away to the woods for their annual guys weekend.

Jonesy is played by Damian Lewis, above, a person with red hair and beard, pale blue eyes, big lips and big teeth, and who I flat-out find intensely unpleasant to look at. We continue to meet the friends with Pete, played by Timothy Olyphant, who wags his finger around to facilitate his psychic process, which helps him find a woman’s car keys, which helps him extort a date from her. We also meet Jason Lee as Beaver, whose character trait is that he wears nerd glasses and is always rolling a toothpick around in his mouth. He calls Jonesy to tell him to be careful, whereupon Jonesy steps across the street and gets whalloped by a car. We then flash-forward six months and, unfortunately, Jonesy is still alive. But he was called across the street on the day of the accident by a vision of Duddits, this young retarded boy who holds great meaning to the psychic superfriends, and Jonesy is all haunted by why Duddits would call him into the path of this oncoming car.

The four friends are going to their cabin in the deep woods, as they have apparently done for years. This necessitates numerous shots of the brewskies they’re about to enjoy, and several instances of painfully inert “guy talk.” It’s all pop references on the cheap [along the lines of mentioning “Britney whats-her-name” so as to avoid actual, litegatable mentions], talk of wanting to bed girls, and beer, as the camera—you guessed it—circles slowly around the group of friends. Who have as much chemistry as four separate rocks in four separate cardboard boxes, by the way. It’s the GUYS! The DUDES! And it’s all nauseating. And we haven’t even gotten to the clangingly awful expository dialogue yet, one sample of which is “You forgot about the Memory Warehouse?” This is introduce the film’s device of literalizing the brain as a physical place, a musty old library where memories are kept like books.

This, however, results in sights like the one above, which is perhaps unusual for most movies. And you have to respect that what we’re about to experience is a psychological journey, and the movie is trying to set up visual ways to describe what might happen. On the other hand, it’s hard to surmount how flat-out dumb it all seems. Anyway, the guys look up at the big Native American dreamcatcher and drink a toast to Duddits, who has been mentioned in numerous lines as all the guys have said that they’ve been thinking about him lately. They drink to Duddits, whom they describe as “their dreamcatcher.”

Now it’s time for the big flashback that explains who Duddits is. The psychic friends network is out walking one day as kids, trying to see a pin-up left in a classroom of some abandoned school, when they hear screaming. They run to help, whereupon they find Duddits, the mentally-challenged redheaded youngster, with three upperclassmen trying to force him to eat a dog turd. They defend him, blah, blah, and it was only halfway through that it occurred to me that this scene would require a PROP DOG TURD. Which I just found to be the most hilarious thing. This means that it was someone’s job to procure a prop dog turd, or facsimile thereof. Sure enough, you can see it around 22:53 [below], not looking at all like a dog turd, as it is rather too smooth and rounded. It looks, in fact, like a corn dog. Anyway, the bullies go away and then—and this may be the very moment, almost 30 minutes in, at which it all becomes too much between all the psychic talk and bizarre characters, and the audience fully turns on the movie and starts laughing at it—because Beaver starts to SING “Blue Bayou” in order to calm Duddits. It is a moment of severe, SEVERE pain. For you, the audience. I had forgotten all about it and was reduced to watching with my hands holding my head, moaning “NO… no… no….” To top it all off, one of the characters comments on what a good singer he is, and take it from me, HE IS NOT. It’s just all a nightmare—AND IT’S ONLY ABOUT TO GET WORSE!

So the next day [back in the present day] the guys are out hunting [I believe this is one of the few times you will see your good guys go out hunting for sport in a movie], and on the way back, Jonesy encounters Rick, this obviously sick guy. He brings him back to the cabin. Rick just keeps getting grosser and grosser, with his loud burps, farts, skin ruptures and snot hanging down. Now yes, we’re all adults here and we don’t laugh at farts and burps, but soon all the farting and burping here is getting to be a bit much, and only makes the audience uncomfortable. By the way, in here further insult to the obese is delivered as we hear a throwaway line that the guy who broke the couch in the beginning has literally eaten himself to death in the meantime! Rrrrrude! Beaver comes home in here, and they both talk to the guy while he issues what is apparently a fart from beyond the tomb. They convince him to go lay down. Meanwhile Pete and Henry are out driving and almost hit this woman who also seems to be suffering the same symptoms. Back at the house, Jonesy and Beaver witness a mass migration of CGI animals past their cabin, which freaks them out. They are followed by a helicopter who tells them that the area is quarantined and they should stay where they are.

SPOILERS > > >
Soon Jones and Beaver see a line of bloody footsteps leading from the bedroom [where Rick was] to the bathroom. They break the door down, and find him and the bathroom covered with this bright red kind of… well, who knows what it is. He lets go a long sloppy one into the toilet, then falls off the throne, at which point we get to see his wide-open red asshole. But before you can say ‘Goatsee,’ there’s some sort of something swimming around in that toilet, and Beaver has to sit on there to keep it in. Jonesy goes to get duct tape—personally he strikes me as a trifle more lighthearted than I might be if there was blood all over my bathroom, a decomposing corpse on the floor, and a monster of indeterminate form in the toilet—but maybe these guys are just chill. While he’s gone, Beaver doesn’t have his customary toothpick in his mouth, which he REALLY wants, because it apparently calms him down. I have no idea if this was actually in the book, but it really seems like a writer’s/screenwriter’s contrivance that bears no relation to reality. Like, maybe you bite your nails, but if you had a gun to your head that was going to KILL YOU the second you bit them, don’t you think you could hold off for a second or two? Not the Beav, however, and he pays the price when the monster comes out and attacks. It turns out to be a giant penis, complete with piss slit [look at the picture below if you think I’m exaggerating], where the ridge opens up to reveal a big bunch of nasty teeth. Is there a male version of the vagina dentata? NOW THERE IS! It kills Beaver [Jason Lee, out of his misery first!], and almost gets Jonesy, but Jones turns to see… the giant alien, which looks like a pretty standard alien. It suddenly explodes in a whirl of red powder, which all gets absorbed into Jonesy’s pores… which probably cannot be at all good.

Okay, now, about an hour in, we meet Morgan Freeman as Curtis, some bigwig in the military. He lands in a helicopter, passes these civilians herded into concentration camp-style pens, and goes to his trailer, where he meets Tom Sizemore as his new assistant, Owen. Curtis drops an assload of exposition: an alien spaceship crashed nearby, I think about 25 years ago, which would make it curious that all this stuff is only going down now. The aliens produce this virus called “The Ripley, after that broad in the flick,” and Curtis feels that he must defy his superiors, if need be, to ensure that “nothing leaves alive.” That means he’s going to kill all those sweet civilians outside. He brings some lower officer who let a woman pass out of the quarantine area in for a little chat. He makes the guy swear that he knows for a fact that the woman wasn’t infected—and then Kurtz shoots his fingers off. The introduction of this whole element is where the movie really starts to go off the rails, as there’s just too many disparate directions, too much being crammed ito an already way-too-long 2 hours and 15 minutes. Oh dear. But wait—there’s even more new and bizarre story threads coming up!

Meanwhile, Pete is out keeping watch over the woman he thinks is sleeping, but is actually dead, and is sitting there yammering on [and on and on] to her while one of the killer worms born out of her butt we do see the gaping bloody hole] sneaks around to get him. Pete is taking a pee in a snowbank when what should stick its little head right out in front of his doo-dad? It’s that creepy alien penis, with its big toothy slit-mouth. Now, I’ve read a few reviews of this movie that discuss how the mouth opens like a vagina, which is definitely true, but when the thing is sliding around, it looks very much like a penis. I don’t necessarily want to get into an argument over which set of genitalia it looks like, but it’s certainly intended as something sexual, as it then leaps forward and consumes Pete’s junk with its mouth! He struggles around, gets it around his neck, etc., but apparently it doesn’t bite him, because her finally fights it off and is relatively fine.

Meanwhile, the big alien who disappeared in a poof of red dust has possessed Jonesy, and has taken off on a snowmobile. The two entities have a little discussion as they drive around, which is shot as though they are two people driving side-by-side. The alien takes on the persona of Mr. Gray, who smiles archly and speaks in an erudite British “Jolly-good-show-old-chap” accent. It’s just the latest in a series of “last straws” between this movie and the audience, but it is a doozy. Meanwhile, Joney as we know him is locked inside his “memory warehouse,” protecting that part of his mind from the alien who is portrayed as outside the door, wanting to get in. Jonesy watches what’s happening in the world through a window in this room. He sees Mr. Gray pick up Pete, torture him for information, and finally transform into a giant alien and bite him in half. But seriously, at this point Bozo the Clown could suddenly show up with a dozen flaming poodles and it would make about as much sense as anything else here.

Locked in his memory warehouse, Mr. Grey tries different tactics to get into that last, hidden part, at one point trying the friendly tack, saying “Do let me in. It’s the polite thing to do.” The only time this kind of erudite British voice worked in an alien [and also the only other example I can think of where a scary alien worm speaks with an erudite British voice] is in Brain Damage, which can get away with it because it’s mostly a comedy. In fact, considering that one also featured a big penis-like worm alien, I have to assume that someone involved with this movie saw that one. Oh by the way, when Jonesy watches his good friend get bitten in half, his reaction is: “No! No! You bastard! No!”

While this is happening, Henry has made it back to the cabin, which is half grown-over with the gross red fungus-thing. He goes into the bedroom and finds a big nest of eggs on the bed.Henry finds a bunch of broken eggs under the bed, and soon he’s got a bunch of tiny inch-long worm-things coming toward him. It’s actually kind of cool, and if this movie had stayed as one movie instead of trying to be 18 different movies at once, this could have been a good part. Anyway, he ultimately torches the whole place and then—flashback!

We’re back with the psychic superfriends as they’re youngsters, and they’re all concerned about this missing girl in town. These sure are some concerned kids. Me, I would be like “Girl is missing? Too bad. Now where’s my Admiral Akbar figure?” but that’s why the world is such a rotten place today, with people like me, when in a simpler age wholesome kids used to unite their powers to save strangers in need. They get Duddits’ help, since he’s psychic, and they all stand around him, laying hands on him, and he somehow transfers his amazing powers to them, which is exactly the moment they became the Psychic Superfriends. Too bad Duddits didn’t spring for costumes, or that the kids didn’t have the inspiration to make them themselves. Anyway, they save the girl. Whoop-de-doo.

Now Curtis and Owen get in their respective helicopters and go out there to blow up the big alien spaceship. They pass this whole area stripped of trees where the ship obviously crashed, and parts of it have humanoid aliens there who wave their arms and say, psychically, to the humans: “Don’t hurt us! We’re dying!” Then—and you only see this for a second—but apparently their humanoid appearance is just one way of holding their bodies, but when the bombs fall too close, they turns around and have a much more-worm-like appearance, implying that the humanoid appearance is just a disguise, which is a neat idea… but one that shouldn’t be included if they’re not going to have time to deal with it, as it just clutters the film. Anyway, the crashed alien ship suddenly starts transforming—it’s quite cool—and finally explodes in a big puff of the red dust! Woah, the shits gonna hit the fan now, right, with all that stuff being carried downwind? But no, it all just settles back to the earth and that’s the end of it. Let’s forget all that and just pick up one of our other threads, okay? That’s exactly what the movie does. But by now [90 minutes in, 45 minutes left to go] there are just so many disparate threads you will have long ceased to care where this movie is going.

So Mr. Grey flags down a trucker and kills him, then takes the dog and feeds it meat infected with the red virus, saying in his British accent: “Tasty, tasty! Eat all you like!” Meanwhile, we have another little hint that this alien ship has been here 25 years, which makes it inexplicable that all this is taking place now, but perhaps it was explained away in the book. Meanwhile Henry has been arrested but Owen can tell he’s different and is not down with Curtis’ insane plane anyway, so he breaks Henry out and they go out… doing what, I don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. Oh, they’re trying to reach some place where they’ll prevent someone from putting a worm in the reservoir for the Boston water supply, infecting everyone and spreading the alien invasion!

And now, a very special new paragraph for what may be the stupidest moment in the film—and, you HAVE been reading this, right? There are a lot of stupid moments. Henry and Owen are driving and bonding, while Henry holds Owen’s gun. He says that Jonesy died for a few minutes back when he had his accident, which is why he can compartmentalize his brain as he has been doing. Somehow I don’t think that principle is based strictly on empirically-established scientific information. Anyway, he says “I wish Jonesy would just call me,” which is overheard by Jonesy via his magical window. Then, lo and behold, the gun Henry is holding rings! And he holds it up to his ear and has a brief phone conversation with Jonesy via his gun! By the way, while all this is happening, Owen, sitting right there with this crazy man he just met who is having telephone conversations over handguns, acts as though this is all perfectly plausible.

For some reason they decide that they have to go get Duddits himself, which they do. Fine friends these are who don’t even invite the honored guest that is supposedly so important to them to their yearly get-togethers, considering he obviously lives only 20 minutes away. Yeah, we’ll take the free psychic gifts, but don’t cut into our brewskies and guy talk, right? Somehow they explain to his mom that they’re going to take him, and she acts as though she somehow knows that she’ll never see him again, because she gives an incredibly long, protracted goodbye through tearful eyes that… I found rather hilarious. Sorry. I’m cruel and insensitive.

So somehow or other they locate this water supply place and there inside is Mr. Gray. He’s got the infected pooch, which quickly gives birth to a penis-worm out its rectum. While this is happening, Mr. Grey is trying to open up a common manhole cover with a crowbar, which is taking him hours. Yes, this alien occupying Jonesy’s body, who we have seen can transform into a giant alien-beast in seconds, suddenly is not strong enough to lift a common manhole cover that any adolescent could manage. Then suddenly Curtis is outside in a helicopter, trying to shoot Owen and Henry. He shoots Owen, who managed to bring down the helicopter with his handgun, leading to a big explosion. Woo!

Then Henry goes inside, and I think he and the alien fight. Oh, he fights the worm, too. Now the worm, who you will recall has JUST been born, lays an egg! Wow, what a quick reproductive cycle! What if humans could get pregnant ten minutes after birth? And even though we’ve seen huge piles of eggs in a common nest of these things, this worm lays ONLY ONE. But that’s not even the biggest doozy—the egg, which you’ll recall is maybe 2 minutes old, tops—HATCHES! Hoo doggy, that is some accelerated gestation! And yet in 25 years, they have thus far failed to colonize the Earth. Those must be some fucking dumb aliens.

So Henry is all defeated and it looks like it’s curtains for humanity as we know it, when who comes in the door but Duddits! He says—have an airsickness bag handy—“Scooby Dooby Doo, we got some work to do now.” Jonesy starts issuing a bunch of red dust, which forms into a big nasty alien. Duddits attacks it, and then—Dudditz turns into an alien! He’s been an alien ALL ALONG. Which was prepared for with numerous heavy-handed lines that I’ve spared you from. The two aliens die together, and explode into more red dust, which somehow DOES NOT get onto Jones or Henry, both of whom are standing three feet away. And now Jonesy is back to normal! And he steps on the little worm before it makes it into the water supply! And they’re both happy and delighted, despite the fact that two of their other best friends are dead!

The image fades out, and over the first part of the credits we have more footage of the guys drinking beer and shooting the shit around the table. Let’s remember THE GOOD TIMES! With The GUYS! The DUDES! Then eventually the screen turns black and the music switches to techno music, as though there was something remotely exciting or fast-paced about what we have just seen. I truly don’t get it.
< < < SPOILERS END

Wow. Normally I’m pretty even-handed about what movies really are the worst movie ever made and which ones just SEEM bad, but you know, I think this there’s a very good chance that this might actually BE the worst movie ever made. I think there’s a pretty simple explanation for what happened. Apparently Stephen King sold the film rights to this book for one dollar—and truly, I am prepared to believe that constitutes the SOLE reason this film got made. But the book is apparently like 900 pages, where there would be lots of time for King to expound on the alien’s life-cycle and Curtis’ history, on the history of the psychic superfriends and their crime-fighting exploits, what the aliens have been doing these past 25 years if they’re only trying to take over the world now, and the real history of Duddits and what he has to do with these four guys. The problem is that apparently the screenwriters—no less that William Goldman [Butch Cassidy, All the President’s Men] and Kasdan himself [Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat]—didn’t think that they needed to DUMP huge chunks of King’s story and form what’s left into a story digestible in a movie. Apparently they didn’t feel they had to remain faithful to the book, because many complain about them changing the ending, but it seems that a certain degree of fidelity was holding them back, or an unfortunate wish to throw in as much additional detail as possible, thinking it might add to the texture. For example, when we see, during the attack on the alien ship, that the aliens look like humans one way and nasty alien-beasts the other. You would only notice this by watching very carefully, and when you do see it, it just brings up many more questions than it answers. And what does it add? Nothing but a slightly amusing side detail. So just get rid of it.

Because of this, there’s just too much story to tell here, and the movie is already WAY pushing it at two hours fifteen minutes. It’s okay for the first hour, you can kind of buy the psychic friends network and their magical retard mascot, although it’s goofy, but by the time Curtis shows up, it’s like WTF is THIS??? You have to meet him and Owen at a time when you should have a clear grasp on where the movie is and where it’s going, not when you’re ready to be thrown off by a whole new set of characters and story thread. In fact, I think they should have gotten rid of Curtis entirely, and his whole thread. Again, it just brings up more questions than it answers, and throws the audience fatally off. All of a sudden there’s this Army dude shooting his own men’s fingers off? And this huge explosion of this massive alien ship? And then we never hear anything about that again? And then Curtis vanishes til the very end? Although I think that’s the kind of problems the screenwriters found themselves with: Curtis shows up here, so we have to include him here, here, and here, and we have to show this, and we have to include that, which is how we ended up with this unholy mass of elements that probably worked when you have 900 pages to tell it in, but not when you have to condense. So yeah, it’s a challenge, but that’s the challenge the screenwriters are supposed to rise to, That IS their job, and these guys just got uber-pwned.

The reaction if you’re watching the movie—which contains a whole lot of things that will strain even the most elastic willing suspension of disbelief—is at after a certain point, there’s just one too many threads and things to go along with, and you end up turning against the movie entirely. Not only too many threads, but too many that are straining to be epic in their own right. Look guys, you can’t have some insane Army general just show up and blow the fingers of one of his own men in the first five minutes we know him without either some more introduction or making him the main focus of the movie. It’s just too much for the audience to take in, and starts to seem like these scenes were spliced in from another movie. And it’s too bad, because you can at least run with the psychic friends experiencing an alien invasion from the ground idea, and an amusing-enough monster movie could have been made from that.

The other thing that is both annoying and a serious impediment to getting into the movie is that one can get no clear sense of the alien’s lifecycle, and this makes it difficult for the audience to understand the dangers and opportunities of the situation. So… they’re big aliens except when they’re little worm aliens? And they reproduce via these red spores, except when they reproduce in your intestines, except when they reproduce by laying eggs? And the aliens AND their ship can turn into red dust, but the dust doesn’t blow away anywhere, it just settles down and disappears? Except in the case where it goes in a person and possesses them? And at that point it can alter that person at a molecular level to transform into a giant worm alien and then back again? Contrast this to the lifecycle of the monster from the Alien films, which is immediately understandable, and gets the audience THINKING about how the characters on screen could possibly outwit it and escape. Which means your audience is ENGAGED with your movie. Dreamcatcher is not only lame and overstuffed, it really goes out of its way to alienate the audience and force it to lose interest.

There’s a trailer on the disc that is evidence of the scattered nature of this film in that it is unable to give any kind of coherent picture of what the movie is about. You just get the sense that maybe it’s supposed to be a little eerie and maybe a tiny bit scary, but absolutely no sense of the story is even attempted to be delivered. And why it ends with the completely innocuous sight of a man flagging down a truck is anyone’s guess. I recall there was another, second trailer, that very consciously announced that it was about an “alien invasion,” but still couldn’t convey a solid sense of story—because, of course, there is no solid story here to convey.

Also on the disc are some deleted scenes [you mean they CUT something from this movie?] and my favorite, an alternate ending! This is pretty much the same ending as the original, only much less exciting, and you can see why they would punch up the final confrontation to make it more exciting. Then there’s an additional last bit in which the survivors go to the grave of their fallen comrades and, to your unfolding horror, once more sing “Blue Bayou.” It is a bit of an indictment that someone with some sense realized, early enough to spare us, that this scene would force audience members to use a lighter to melt their soda straws into a rigid needle, and stab it up their noses to deliver a self-administered lobotomy.

Nevertheless, despite it being truly horrific, it is at least amusing, and if you were to invite some buddies over [the GUYS!] and imbibe copious amounts of alcoholic beverages, you could have a good time mocking it, because it offers plenty of targets. And there’s alien attacks and large-scale special effects, so that’s always amusing, too. This is a movie that puts its ass in the air every few minutes and virtually begs you to kick it. Don’t hold back. It feels good, and it’s what the movie deserves.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, it’s amusingly awful. Booze and friends [and booze, too] are recommended.