As of last Tuesday, my friend Robyn had never seen the atrocity that is the movie Dreamcatcher. And since my sister and I had been meaning to watch it again for years now—just to see if it was quite as horrible as we remembered it being—we happily rented the film when we went to visit her.
In a word: yes. It is.
Jonesy, Henry, Pete, and Beaver are four childhood friends who have developed a semi-telekinetic bond and some psychic powers since saving Duddits, a kid with Downs Syndrome, from a bunch of bullies. Now grown up, the guys meet once a year at a hunting lodge and talk about the good ole times . . . until hitchhiking aliens, shit weasels, and crazy military men with non-regulation eyebrows get in the way.
1. If you’ve never heard of it, Dreamcatcher is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, the one he wrote while recovering from the van that more or less ran him over. I have not read every S.K. novel out there, but I’ve read my fair share, and I feel fairly confident in my assessment that Dreamcatcher is one of the messiest books he has ever written. Which is not to say I disliked it. Despite a semi-chaotic plot and an ending that makes very little sense, I do enjoy the novel. I just don’t understand why anyone tried to adapt it. Well, money. Fine. But who exactly thought that a good adaptation was even a feasible option here? I kind of feel like the filmmakers were setting themselves up for failure.
Of course, not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how badly they would fail.
2. For instance, let’s discuss acting for, oh, twelve paragraphs.
Jonesy (Damien Lewis)
The first time I saw this movie, I despised Damien Lewis’s portrayal of Jonesy and was honestly astounded when I kept hearing all these things about what an amazing actor he is. On a second viewing, I can actually say that he is not quite as bad as I remember him being. Which isn’t exactly to say that he’s good—he’s not—and more to say that I blame the director for not reigning in some of Lewis’s spectacularly cartoonish (and awful) choices. I’m afraid I can’t really go into detail above the Spoiler Section, suffice it to say that in some other film with some other tone, Lewis’s performance might have been fine. Sadly, that was not this movie.
Henry (Thomas Jane)
Of course, Lewis was Oscar material compared to his costar, Thomas Jane. And I like Thomas Jane in some things—61*, The Mist, the tragically underappreciated Deep Blue Sea. But here his delivery is so flat that it’s almost a little unbelievable, like you should have to actually work at it to be so horrifically awful. According to IMdB trivia, Jane took the part because his mother, a big King fan, wanted him to. I can only assume the conversation went something like this:
Mom: I think you should take that part in Dreamcatcher. If you really loved me, you’d take the part.
Thomas Jane: But I don’t WANNA!
Mom: Take the part, or I’ll never speak to you again.
Thomas Jane: FINE. But I’m going to hate every single minute of it.
Pete (Timothy Olyphant)
I have said (and will continue to maintain) that Timothy Olyphant is easily the best part about this movie, if only because he manages to bring some semblance of personality to his character. And besides, I buy his slightly creepy, psychic car salesman thing. If this movie had twenty percent more of Olyphant and forty percent less of Morgan Freeman’s eyebrows . . . well, it still probably would have sucked, but at least it would have been going in the right direction.
Beaver (Jason Lee)
Poor Jason Lee. He’s not great here as Beaver, but I think he does try. It’s just . . . if you’ve ever read a Stephen King book, you know the man’s got a fairly singular way of writing dialogue or, at the very least, writing profanity. Characters in Dreamcatcher have all kinds of colorful phrases, and Beaver, in particular, is saddled with 95% of it. He seems to say, “Fuck me, Freddy” or “Kiss my bender” about every other line. The dialogue feels natural in the book, but in the movie, it’s just hideous. It sticks out like a sore thumb, a sore, gangrenous, smelly thumb.
Kurtz (Morgan Freeman)
Morgan Freeman plays crazy Colonel Kurtz—actually, he doesn’t; he plays crazy Colonel Curtis, but we’re going to call him by his name in the book because to hell with it. And while I honestly believe that Freeman can act outside his stereotypical wise man/mentor/narrator roles . . . this is just such a weird casting. I’m fairly certain that Freeman isn’t even trying here. His Kurtz is just so blah. You see those gigantic eyebrows, and you’re thinking he might at least be going for a gloriously campy, cheesy evil—which would be wrong for Kurtz but at least interesting to watch—but nope. He’s not sinister or campy, just boring.
Owen (Tom Sizemore)
And talk about characters who have lost any semblance of personality. Owen is Kurtz’s right-hand man with doubts, and the filmmakers gave his character such little consideration or depth, I’m a little surprised they bothered to have him in the story at all. Sizemore isn’t worse than anyone else in the film, but he certainly doesn’t try to to add much to the material, either.
And finally Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg)
Oh, Duddits. Look, a magical kid with Down’s Syndrome is not an easy thing to sell, so a magical man with Down’s Syndrome who is also dying of cancer is just . . . well, I don’t even know what that is other than damn hard to translate to film. Donnie Wahlberg is not quite as awful or offensive as I was expecting him to be, if only because most of his time is spent trying not to die in the backseat of a car. But . . . yeah, this probably isn’t the best portrait of Down’s Syndrome ever seen on screen.
3. Every character in this movie is fairly incompetent. Henry, for instance, is probably the worst shrink in the world. He has a scene in the beginning of the film where he says things that no psychiatrist would ever say to a patient, and while King makes it clear in the book that Henry is suffering from depression himself and accidentally does his whole psychic mojo thing and kind of snaps during the session, Jane’s hideously flat delivery makes you wonder if he always talks like this to his clients and, also, if his lines are just posted on a wall somewhere, and he’s just reading them for the very first time.
Of course, you’d also think that Henry would know how to handle a firearm, having been a hunter for the past, oh, twenty odd years or so, but no. Henry accidentally shoots a wall in this movie. A wall. No one comes running to check on him, presumably because everyone in his office building hates him and wants him to die.
The military are also completely useless at their jobs. You’d think that badass special forces dudes who answer to nobody would also be able to shoot straight or, at the very least, take cover while being shot at. Yeah, you’d be wrong.
4. Transitions are a major problem in this movie. For instance, there are a handful of flashbacks that, while a bit clunky, are mostly acceptable . . . except the one where the young boys are pointing to a poster of a missing girl and telling little Duddits that he has to help them find her. The movie never bothers to tell you who this girl is, or why the boys suddenly come up with their mission to save her, or how they even know she can be saved. It’s just ridiculously abrupt. Also, an hour into the film, Kasdan starts randomly throwing in a few Star Wars wipes. Like, what?
5. If you haven’t read this book, well. There are these things called shitweasels. We won’t get into them too much right now, only to say that they don’t look nearly as bad as I thought they would. (I mean, they aren’t good, exactly. But, you know. Giant teeth are creepy enough, so I’ll let it slide.) But CGI Mr. Gray?
No. Just no.
6. I appreciate that the film tried to keep a lot of the King-isms in the movie. Dreamcatcher is chock-full of repeated phrases, and besides “fuck me, Freddy” and “kiss my bender” are other ones like “no bounce, no play” and “SSDD”. It’s cool that you can kind of hear King in the script when some film adaptations do their level best to eradicate his voice entirely.
That being said, these catchphrases are all so forced that it kind of ruins the whole effect. SSDD, in particular, is thrown around everywhere (they must say it at least 23 different times), and as a result, it just comes off as repetitive and meaningless. There’s sort of a weariness that these four men feel in the book, partially because of how they’ve been irrevocably changed from their encounter with Duddits, and partially because of the fact that growing up sucks, but the movie mostly fails to capture that attitude at all. You could substitute SSDD with almost anything—five by five, maybe—-and it would change almost nothing. The dialogue becomes completely arbitrary.
7. Dreamcatcher’s two most successful scenes are probably The Memory Warehouse Scene and The Bathroom Scene.
A. The Memory Warehouse
The Memory Warehouse is pretty much what it sounds like: it’s a place inside Jonesy’s mind where he files all of his memories. It’s basically like a gigantic library with an attached office, and it looks a great deal nicer than what I expect my memory palace looks like.
The scene is a bit of an obvious set-up, but sometimes there’s just nothing for it—it’s better than not setting the stage at all, and anyway, I kind of like this bit, particularly when “Blue Bayou” starts playing and you get shots that would not be out of place in a Wes Anderson film.
B. The Bathroom Scene
While it’s not nearly as horrific as it is in the novel, the bathroom scene in Dreamcatcher is still one of the film’s only redeeming moments. Things should not try to kill you while you’re on the toilet. It’s rude.
8. One of my pet peeves: when characters know, suspect, or fear something that they have absolutely no cause to know, suspect, or fear. More on that in the Spoiler Section, of course.
9. Want to know why this movie is called Dreamcatcher? If you watched the Memory Warehouse scene, you might have figured it out. Or not. It’s a blink-and-miss kind of moment. Mostly miss.
10. Finally, can we just focus on the eyebrows one more time?
Those eyebrows want to make crazy monkey love to Pai Mei’s eyebrows and have insane, gigantic eyebrow babies.
Do you need more convincing that this was a terrible movie? Crave mockery in more detail? Follow below where there will be spoilers for both the novel and the film.
Okay. So we first meet all the friends in their miserable little lives. Pete is a car salesman who’s method of picking up woman—psychically finding their lost car keys—is not as successful as you might think. (I get why the woman was creeped out, but honestly, if I had a man who could find my keys every time I lost them . . . shit, I’d get over it.) Henry is the worst shrink in the universe. Beaver’s divorce storyline gets cut from the movie entirely because it’s not that important, and he is instead used to warn Jonesy to be careful. (In the novel, Henry does this.)
Jonesy is a teacher who knows if you’re cheating whether he’s present on test day or not, and he promptly ignores his friend’s warning when he sees a hallucination of his old pal Duddits from across the street, urging him to walk forward into traffic. On one hand, you’re clearly not on top of your game when you’re hallucinating children from long-ago. On the other hand, would it have killed you, Jonesy, to look both ways before crossing the street to meet someone who can’t actually be there? Well, anyway. Jonesy gets hit by a car, dies in the ambulance, and gets brought back to life.
Flash forward a few months.
Jonesy, Pete, Henry, and Beaver have all made it up to their hunting lodge. While Pete and Henry go off for beer, a guy named Rick stumbles up to their cabin. Rick has been lost in the woods for awhile, but more importantly, his belly is distended and huge. He has strange red stuff kind of growing on him. (Although it looks more like a rash in the movie than the moss-like substance I pictured in the book.) And he farts, like, epically. He goes to lie down for a while.
When Jonesy and Beaver go to check on him, the room is empty but for a lot of blood. The blood tracks all the way to the bathroom. Jonesy and Beaver force their way in and find Rick dead on the toilet. Also, there’s something in the toilet. No, probably not what you’re thinking. The thing is affectionately called a shitweasel, and it’s like an alien parasite thing that grows in you, forces its way out of your ass, and chews up anything it can find. Beaver traps the thing in the toilet by slamming the lid down and sitting on it, while Jonesy leaves to find duct tape. For the record, I don’t think that sitting on the toilet would even have occurred to me. Kneeling on it, maybe. But sitting just leaves you in a very vulnerable position. Especially if you’re addicted to chewing toothpicks.
See, Beaver is always chewing on a toothpick, particularly when he’s stressed—which is something I can relate to, as I also like chewing on toothpicks, although that’s mostly to annoy my sister—and there is a toothpick on the ground that he can’t . . . quite . . . reach. But he tries anyway, and he sits up just a little too much from the toilet seat. The shitweasel gets out and attacks. Jonesy comes back with the tape but not in time to save Beaver.
Instead of attacking Jonesy, the shitweasel . . . returns to his master? The crappy CGI alien dude I was talking about before, Mr. Gray, is suddenly standing behind Jonesy, and he quickly possesses our psychic teacher friend. Maybe you’re wondering what Mr. Gray-as-Jonesy acts or sounds like? Well, I’ll tell you.
Now, Damien Lewis is actually English, but he doesn’t sound like Malcolm McDowell in real life. I know because I checked. But as soon as Mr. Gray comes out to play, I couldn’t stop thinking of A Clockwork Orange for the rest of the movie. Turns out, Lewis decided that an evil extraterrestrial possessing an American male would naturally have a cheerful Cockney accent. (Is Cockney correct? I apologize if it’s not. I’m rubbish at that sort of thing. And you see what I did there, with the whole British turn of phrase? Yeah, that wasn’t meant to be cute. My brain is just useless and slurs everything together.) Anyhow, this cartoonish acting choice is something I mostly blame on the director for not stopping that shit immediately. The whole Gollum-esque conversations that Jonesy keeps having with himself are hopelessly campy and make this movie even more laughable than it already is. And the face he makes when Mr. Gray completely takes over. Oh. My. God. You have to see this face.
There are no words.
In the meantime, Henry and Pete rather spectacularly crash their car when they swerve out of the way to avoid a woman sitting in the road. The woman ends up being one of Rick’s infected buddies, and Pete, who’s leg is kind of screwed up, sits with her while Henry goes to get help. Pete’s mostly cool with it because hey, he’s got beer, and he offers the audience drunken exposition about how all four friends saved Duddits from bullies back in the day. (The five of them also saved this girl, Josie, and then the four guys all gained some vaguely defined psychic abilities, and I can see why they changed some stuff because even in the book, this isn’t explained well, but most of the changes the film makes actually prove to be more ridiculous.) The shitweasel kills the woman and attacks Pete, and he only just manages to survive. Unfortunately, Mr. Gray finds Pete, tries to use him for information, and eventually kills him.
This is worthy of its own note because the death is . . . stupid. It’s just stupid. In the novel, Pete is infected with the byrus (the red mossy stuff, also called ripley), and Mr. Gray kind of psychically makes it contract so that Pete’s whole head caves in on itself. In the movie, however, Mr. Gray opens his giant, CGI, alien mouth and literally bites Pete’s head off.
This is problematic because Mr. Gray is possessing Jonesy at the time, and Jonesy does not have giant, CGI, alien teeth that are capable of literally biting Pete’s head off. Psychic abilities are one thing, but we’re talking actual physical features here. This isn’t anatomically possible. Throughout the film, Mr. Gray is limping around because Jonesy has a limp . . . but he can just replace Jonesy’s head with his own head whenever he feels like it? If Mr. Gray had jumped out of Jonesy’s body to eat Pete while Jonesy was collapsed on the snow beside them, well, that would be acceptable. But this isn’t what happens. Jonesy is clearly stuck inside his own brain watching everything from the office inside his Memory Warehouse. So . . . yes. Pete’s death makes no sense at all. Also, it’s tragic because Pete was about the only thing this movie had going for it other than total mockery.
Speaking of total mockery, Colonel Kurtz and Owen Underhill are talking about how evil these aliens are and how the only way to deal with the possible infected is to kill them and so on and so forth. Owen agrees with all these statements here, but when they have this exact same conversation again in about thirty minutes, his opinion will have changed for no apparent reason whatsoever. Kurtz proves he’s a crazy fuck for shooting the fingers off of one of his well-meaning but disobedient soldier’s hands, and Owen’s like, Cool beans, until he’s just suddenly not. It’s weird. The script tries to throw in some half-assed mentor/student, father/son relationship between the two of them, but it’s superficial at best. America’s Next Top Model has more depth.
They also talk about the looming fear of a hitchhiker, that is, an alien who can possess a human instead of just infecting him with a shitweasel. Basically, Kurtz is explaining Mr. Gray to the audience. My problem with this is that the military has no evidence at all to even suggest that this is a possibility. The aliens’ psychic abilities are extremely toned down in the movie, so I have no idea at all why this fear would even be thought of. It’s just kind of a pet peeve of mine.
Anyway, Henry ends up at the military compound with the rest of the possibly-infected population. He does his psychic trick with Owen and manages to talk the solider into breaking him out. They want to track down Mr. Gray before he can infect the entire world, and to do that they need grown up Duddits who, as it turns out, is dying of cancer. (There’s also an actually fairly funny moment with Henry psychically getting through to Jonesy and using Owen’s gun like a cell phone. Owen’s reaction is fairly priceless, I’ll give him that.)
Henry, Owen, and Duddits catch up with Jonesy. Kurtz, who is tracking Owen through a hidden chip in his gun or something, flies up in a helicopter. They proceed to have one of the dumbest shootouts I have ever seen. Owen stands in the middle of the road with absolutely no cover of any kind. Kurtz flies by with his helicopter and shoots several times. Somehow, even though Owen doesn’t move at all, Kurtz misses. Owen then tries to shoot Kurtz. He is also unsuccessful, although since he’s on the ground with a handgun, well, that’s more understandable. Kurtz comes by for a second pass. Owen still doesn’t move. This time, Kurtz shoots the shit out of Owen, and Owen takes down Kurtz’s helicopter. They both
get out of the way before the real showdown can occur die tragically.
Henry and Duddits confront Jonesy. Duddits reveals that he’s secretly an alien, and yes, I don’t know that Duddits’s magical abilities ever made much actual sense in the book, but really, Kasdan? You made him an alien? He’s just been chilling in the body of a dude with Down’s Syndrome AND leukemia, waiting for this whole thing to happen? (Cause, see, Duddits pretty much planned everything. He caused Jonesy to get hit by a car so that Jonesy would die, so that he’d be immune to the shitweasels, so that Duddits and Mr. Gray could have it out here. Yes. That’s less ridiculous.)
Mr. Gray leaves Jonesy’s body, and the two aliens duke it out for half a second before they both explode into red mist. Henry and Jonesy live. And the only good thing I can say about this ending, the only positive change I think the film makes, is to completely ignore Stephen King’s last “Jonesy wasn’t really possessed; he just thought he was possessed” twist that comes out of left field because, honestly, if you’re going to pull shit like that, you have to lay amazing fucking groundwork, which I don’t think happened. Still, even though the book is messy, this movie is . . . this movie is pretty incredibly bad.
Fairly terrible adaptation. Flat characters. Clunky script. Mostly bad acting. Shit CGI. Might be a truly so-bad-it’s-good film, though. I mean, I had a pretty good time mocking it. Admittedly, mockery’s where I live, but still. I was never actually bored. Horrified and disbelieving, sure, but never bored.
Value your childhood friends. Because, someday, an alien that crawls out of people’s butts might eat one of them.
Also, don’t chew on toothpicks. And don’t cross the Curtis line.