Just because you are the world’s preeminent horror author, it doesn’t mean that you’re not gonna produce the odd stinker every now and then and alternatively, when you’re Stephen King, the quality of your book it doesn’t really matter when Hollywood comes to snap up rights to transfer to the big screen.
This brings us neatly to Dreamcatcher, King’s muddled alien invasion tale that’s utterly crammed with impressive filmmaking talent but nevertheless ends up being an epically disjointed mess.
To be fair, King’s record when overtly dealing with extra-terrestrials is admittedly spotty with his other alien opus, The Tommyknockers, also not seen to be as exactly his best but Dreamcatcher in particular is absolutely filled to the brim with everything but the kitchen sink storytelling, a chaotic narrative that contains telepathy, an other worldly virus, an insane military colonel and – most bizarre of all – butt bursting aliens, which director Lawrence Kasdan gamely tries to fit in this bewildering story.
A group of childhood buddies head up to a cabin in the woods for their annual trip only to run into an invasion of alien parasites that causes incredible bloating, trombone sound flatulence and worst of all, razor mouthed, slippery, eel-like creatures dubbed “Shit-Weasels” that exit bloodily through the anus (oh, you read that right, don’t worry). Other progressively more random effects of this otherworldly assault include a virus like red moss amusingly christened “Ripley” and an eight foot, mind possessing E.T. referred to as Mr. Grey and the four friends have their ranks visiously desimated by various introductions to this evil force that wants to wash over the world. Two of the friends bloodily fall foul of the Shit-Weasels, while a third gets mixed up in a power struggle between the bullish Colonel (Morgan Freeman in rare full villain mode) in charge of the quarantine and a conscience plagued subordinate, but worst is saved for the fourth who’s body is taken over and desperately tries to fight off the invader from within his “mind warehouse” while hiding boxes of his memories from this marauding possessor. But could this all be connected to “Duddits”, the mentally disabled boy they all befriended in their youth who gifted his beloved friends in return with extra-sensory powers?
In novel form, the vast amounts of word-soup you just read barely holds together under the weight of it’s own preposterousness but the sheer skill of the author and the readers own imagination makes it kind-of work in an entertainingly bullshity kind of way, but the filmmakers here have the unenviable task of trying to realise a world that just simply doesn’t work outside of the printed page.
Worse yet, it actually tries to match the book’s casual lunacy, vainly trying to wrestle it into making some sort of cohesive sense but only succeeds in bringing a suprisingly great cast together to fail magnificently.
The power house quartet of Damien Lewis, Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant and Jason Lee play the It-lite group of childhood friends who have grown up oddly scarred by their telepathic powers but are still trying to make it work and the four have such a good, easy rapport with each other that in any other film this cast would utterly KILL. However, when all the bizarre alien shit gets started and some legitimately eerie images have passed by (a frozen women cross-legged in the middle of the road, Lewis and Lee staring dumbfounded at the dread infused image of wildlife evacuating the area en masse) everything falls apart and the film struggles to actualize the rather out-there concepts that King casually proposed in book form. For example, Damien Lewis is a fine actor, but showing him wrestling under the influence of Mr. Grey by “Golluming” with himself in a perky British accent produces titters instead of screams and the visualization of their telepathic powers is just plain silly whether it be via swirly CGI or Tom Jane using a gun as a phone to call someone’s subconscious; you just don’t buy it.
The CGI firmly puts the “shit” into shit weasel and everything looks as unconvincing as Morgan Freeman’s fluffy white eyebrows and spirit level perfect flat top hair and you truly wonder how a combining of King, co- screenwriter William Goldman (The Princess Bride) and director/co-writer Kasdan (Raiders Of The Lost Ark) with such a budget behind them could drop such an epic stinker into the bowl of cinema without the merest hint of a courtesy flush.
You really can’t polish a turd, I suppose. Or in this case, shine a Shit Weasel.