USA 2003 : Lawrence KASDAN : 131 mins

Faced with Stephen King’s 600-page potboiler, Kasdan and co-writer William Goldman seem to have just said ‘to hell with it’ and gone for an all-out, what-the-fuck monster-mash that feels more like a King piss-take than any kind of respectful adaptation. Bits of previous adaptations are frantically churned together, along with generous yucky dollops of The Thing and Tremors: in wintry Maine (Misery) four lifelong friends remember their youth (Stand By Me), when they received supernatural powers (The Dead Zone) from a kid they saved from bullies – now, an alien invasion (The TommyKnockers) means they must band together to defeat an all-powerful, evil force (It).

Some early reviewers have misinterpreted Dreamcatcher as ‘unintentionally hilarious’ – perhaps the portentous title and ‘serious’ aspects of the plot led them to expect a straightforward chiller. But Kasdan and Goldman don’t make any bones about how they’re trying to combine gross-out comedy and gross-out horror: during the build-up to the first alien appearance, they sacrifice all tension in favour of American Pie style toilet-humour revolving around farts, belches and bad intestinal smells. This is because the aliens, after incubating within human hosts, then come “blasting out the basement door” as ET-savvy military hardass Colonel Curtis (Morgan Freeman) not-so-delicately puts it. In fact Curtis’s jocular term for the fanged ass-exiting beasties is ‘shit-weasel’ – a title which would actually fit the movie’s scatological tone much more closely than ‘Dreamcatcher’, a pretentious reference to a native Indian amulet which has only oblique, symbolic significance to the plot.

Jason Lee and Timothy Olyphant – as ‘Beaver’ and Pete, two of the central quartet – get the biggest leeway to milk the broad laughs, but after their relatively early exits survivors Thomas Jane (as Henry) and Damian Lewis (Jonesy) have to play things relatively deadpan, especially once the trigger-happy Dr Strangelove-ish army special forces get involved. Jane in particular deserves special commendation for keeping a straight face when, in a typically absurd and implausible moment, Henry uses an old gun of John Wayne’s (!) to receive a kind of psychic telephone call (!!) from Jonesy’s spirit – isolated in a mental ‘memory warehouse’ while his body has been taken over by an inexplicably plummy-voiced alien entity known as ‘Mr Gray’. While such convoluted shenanigans may sound gratingly nonsensical on the page, it’s carried off with sufficient on-screen brio that the suspension of normal critical faculties, along with disbelief, is surprisingly easy. The results, while overlong and insufficiently scary, are enjoyable enough – provided you’re up for a breezily cheesy big-budget B-movie that either will not or cannot take itself seriously for a moment.

22nd April, 2003
(seen same day, UCI MetroCentre, Gateshead)

by Neil Young