I met author Stephen King when he was on a promotional tour for the film “Creepshow.” Straddling into the room, his hair looking as if he had just awoken from a deep sleep, King sat down at the table and jokingly inquired “Okay, who’s got the drugs.” I immediately knew that this was someone I would want to hang out with.

One of the questions I asked King was if he shields his children from the films based on his novels. King said that those films didn’t bother his children as much as the Joan Crawford character in “Mommie Dearest” because she was a “real” monster.

There are plenty of monsters, both human and otherworldly, on view in “Dreamcatcher,” the film version of King’s first novel after the near-death accident that pitted him against a pick-up truck. Despite the film’s gross-out appeal, “Dreamcatcher” isn’t really that scary, and despite its high profile pedigree, it’s not really that good either.

Which is too bad, because when you have director-writer Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Raiders of the Lost Ark) behind the camera, and writer William Goldman (Misery) doing the adaptation, you expect so much more than what “Dreamcatcher” has to offer. The horror/science- fiction thriller is big and glossy, with as much gee-whiz visual effects money can buy, but it never reaches the giddy, ghoulish zenith of the novel.

This is Kasdan’s first foray into the genre, and while he manages to create genuinely engaging characters and engrossing patter, his take on this tale of four friends who become unwitting hosts and heroes during an alien invasion in the snowy Maine countryside lacks suspense and drags on way too long. Goldman’s attempts to add levity also reduces the fear factor, as does the film’s earnest but reaching philosophical finale.

In his attempt to trim King’s lengthy novel into a manageable two hours plus, Goldman has created a mess. While many of King’s familiar elements are still in place, the script is all over the place. Four childhood friends (Stand By Me) rescue and then befriend a mentally challenged youth (The Stand), and for their efforts, are rewarded with a telepathic powers (Carrie).

As adults, the foursome gather for their yearly reunion in a remote cabin, a much needed retreat after one of them, Jonesy (Damian Lewis, “Band of Brothers”), almost dies in an accident. What they seek is a little rest and relaxation from the their everyday lives. What they find is an alien creature with a nasty habit of literally getting inside a human host.

They also encounter a massive secret military presence, led by the determined to the point of being crazy Col. Abraham Curtis (Morgan Freeman), a career alien chaser intent on eradicating the presence. If that also means eradicating everyone in his path, so be it. Making sure that Curtis fulfills his goal is right hand man Owen Underhill (Tom Sizemore), who slowly begins to realize that he’s working under the orders of a madman.

Kasdan has chosen an extremely workable cast to flesh out the characters, including Thomas Jane (“Deep Blue Sea,” still looking for his big break-through role) as Henry, a psychiatrist whose psychic abilities always put him one step ahead of his patients; Jason Lee (Almost Famous) as Beaver, a carpenter who ends up getting nailed by one of the alien critters; and Timothy Olyphant (The Broken Hearts Club) as used car salesman Pete, who drinks more than he should.

Goldman’s script works when it concentrates on the relationship between the four men and Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg, “The Sixth Sense”), the retarded young man who holds all of their fates in his fragile hands. It fails when Goldman attempts to put these real characters into unreal situations, forcing the actors to become slaves to the plot instead of vice-versa. At this point, the film becomes so convoluted it’s difficult to take any of it seriously.

Kasdan has always been an actor’s director, and for the first half hour or so, that is apparent. Then like the carnivorous critters that take over the men one-by-one, the film becomes another monster altogether. Moments of dark, almost sadistic humor (one scene of a victim expunging the aliens from his system is both shocking and funny) fail to connect with the film’s sense of humanity, creating a two-headed hydra that the director, writer, or cast can’t slay.

Like many of King’s novels and a good wine, “Dreamcatcher” needs more time to breathe. Condensing it into a feature film betrays King’s finely-tuned character development. Even though the subject matter is too intense for broadcast television, it would have worked much better as a miniseries, perhaps as an HBO or Showtime production.


Big stars, big director, big writer, big disappointment


Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Tom Sizemore. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. 135 Minutes. Rated R.


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