Cinema Signal:

The Unexplained:
Alien Encounters

. "Dreamcatcher"

Them pesky aliens are at it again. Stephen King is at it again, too, as he takes on the heritage of "Alien". There's no Ripley in outer space, but as though to provide some originality to the alien concept of that original hit Stephen King adapter William Goldman ("Misery", "Heart In Atlanta") comes up with enough plotlines from the 600-page novel to strangle an extraterrestrial. Lawrence Kasdan directs with capable dramatic strengths and for the male youth market, Dreamcatcher is likely to perform by gripping the target audience with its mystery, danger and bloody relentlessness.

The variation on the familiar theme of an alien creature capable of form shifting and always intent on destroying our planet as we know it is the gang of four boyhood chums who rescue a fifth under attack by a team of bullies. It turns out that the boy being beaten up is Duddits, an apparent weakling who couldn't stand up to one abuser, let alone three football heroes who inexplicably have a need to feel superior. But, all is not as it appears to be. Duddits, for all his weaknesses and infirmities, including a speech impediment, has special powers, which he confers upon his rescuers. These powers, which include mind reading and sensory location, serve to bond the team closely, into adulthood.

The title prop, the dreamcatcher, appears to be a sort of net designed by Duddits to protect his new chums. For the comprehensibility of this I refer you to the book; it's one of the barely unexplained mysteries of the movie.

When the four men, Henry (Thomas Jane), Beaver (Jason Lee), Jonesy (Damian Lewis) and Pete (Timothy Olyphant) meet at their remote hunting cabin in Maine for a weekend of storytelling and booze, strange things begin to occur that have a foreboding of doom. A lost hunter suffering from a contagion the destructive potential of which he's not aware, is rescued by Jonesy and brought to the cabin, introducing consequences that slowly and mysteriously emerge throughout the area, wreaking havoc.

Yet there are some who not only have been expecting an invasive force, but have been preparing for it. This plotline merges with the four guys in the cabin when military strike force helicopters hover over them, following an exodus of forest animals marked by red rashes and running for their lives.

The elite military force is led by Col. Abraham Curtis (Morgan Freeman), a commander with a sense of mission bordering on paranoid obsession. Owen Underhill (Tom Sizemore), his trusted lieutenant, is ready to follow his every order... at first. They are prepared to combat a very strange and dangerous menace where victory is nothing less than total annihilation.

Col. Curtis is not the only one prepared for combat, however. Somehow, the powers conferred upon the team of four by Duddits was really preparation for a future event which is now being played out. So, what we might have thought was two movies in one we now see as related. When the now cancer-ridden Duddits is called upon for a final confrontation with the powerful and ubiquitous enemy, the end, we suspect, is near. It's squishy and full of gore with sides in the drama mixed up by false identities and broken comradeship. All in all, a scary encounter with the world of mean extraterrestrials.

It lives up to the scary specs of the prime inventor of broadly threatening monstrosities, Stephen King, who may have taken a previously established creation, but added his own patented wrinkles to the mythology, much as he did with his earlier and more successful "Salem's Lot." Director Kasdan controls the mystery with a design to bring the maximum chills up the spine of every chair in the theatre and to do so with a budget that ensures high production value. So long as you don't require plausibility in such fare, such as if you're willing to pay no heed to conveniently contrived "powers", you stand a chance of being infected as intended.

Unfortunately, with all the story lines, character trails and inexhaustible supply of red gook, plausibility, for an adult audience, is continuously and critically tested. Despite solid performances in the acting department, so is patience with the protracted mysteries, incoherence and unjustifiable length at 134 minutes.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Tom Sizemore and Morgan Freeman, tracking the alien enemy

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