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A messy stew from Stephen King 

The latest in the unending series of films adapted from the Stephen King novel factory employs a grab-bag, or perhaps a garbage-can, approach to the author's usual subjects, resulting in an extraordinary and virtually uncontrollable farrago of horror. Dreamcatcher combines the nostalgia and sentimentality of Stand By Me with the psychic phenomena of, say, The Dead Zone, the alien invasion of innumerable science fiction flicks, and the gross-out gore that King loves so dearly. The movie also reveals, more blatantly than usual, a good deal about the author's peculiar approach to his subjects, and even hints at an unusual source for the subjects' appeal to his immense audience.

            Dreamcatcher introduces four characters, friends who each possess a special but slight supernatural power: a psychiatrist who senses his patients' thoughts, a carpenter with precognition, a professor who apparently empathizes with his students, and a car salesman who can find lost objects. The four somehow acquired their abilities through the instrumentation of a special child, a retarded boy named Duddits, who they saved from a couple of bullies when they were 12-year-olds (this sequence is shown in flashback). The four gather every year at a cabin in the Maine woods to hunt and talk about old times, including their feeling that their shared relationship with Duddits defines the essential emptiness of their lives.

            After establishing that situation, the movie turns into a combination of exciting sci-fi and ghastly horror. Two of the friends encounter a lost hunter wandering in the woods, bleeding from some odd wounds, frostbitten, and apparently in pain. The two others, off to buy supplies, find the man's wife, also frozen and suffering, and like her husband, unable to explain her plight. The friends discover that the man and woman harbor a hideous parasite that devours them from the inside and exits their bodies through the anus. A combination of the phallic and the vaginal, the creature initially resembles a slug or a leech, than rapidly grows into a huge, slimy eel, like a giant lamprey, with a long, toothed mouth for a face.

            The presence of the creature piles on more plot, introducing Morgan Freeman as the crazed commander of a special military unit dedicated to killing extraterrestrial invaders, called "Ripleys" --- after the classic film Alien's monster, with its propensity for invading the human organism and popping out through the chest. He and his men quarantine a large area of the Maine woods in order to destroy the aliens, their ship, and, incidentally, all the infected human inhabitants --- including, of course, any survivors of the original quartet. The action then jumps around between the battle of the four friends against the invaders; the particular struggle of one of them, Jonesy (Damian Lewis), against his personal internal guest; the conflict between Freeman and his second-in-command (Tom Sizemore), who carries his own emotional baggage; and the desperate trek of the psychiatrist (Thomas Jane), to find Duddits, who, he comes to realize, will save the world.

            The various plots and characters, which should provide enough material for three or four movies, finally coalesce around the climactic struggle between the now-adult Duddits (a mortally ill young man) and the chief of the aliens, known for obscure reasons as Mr. Gray. The picture suggests that a kind of fate operates in the lives of the four friends, that their rescue of Duddits twenty years before actually determined the pattern of their lives, guiding them to the place where they would face the danger Duddits foresaw, armed with the powers he somehow gave them. The ultimate encounter defines their friendship and confers meaning and goodness on their lives.

            Aside from the familiar gore (Dreamcatcher is the bloodiest movie since Gangs of New York) and the plethora of allusions to contemporary popular culture --- movies, music, cartoons, TV shows --- that distinguish the King canon, the movie displays a rather disturbed fixation on bodily functions. The phallic monster exhibits a true vagina dentata, for example (and even clamps its teeth on a character's penis), enters and exits the body through the anus, and initially appears when a character is seated on the toilet. All this, along with a considerable discussion of flatulence, underlines the movie's preoccupation with the excremental.

            The absolute absence of sex, the reiteration of the childhood memories, the adolescent bonding of the four buddies, and the nature of the menace all suggest that King remains disturbingly fixated in juvenility, which may truly provide the basis for his appeal. The movie demonstrates his tendency to exploit the perennial terrors of childhood, here revealed through the mixture of science fiction, alien invasion, apocalyptic disaster, and horror flick. The result tends to resemble an indigestible stew of plots, characters, and themes, disturbing more for its possibly unintended revelations than for its purported horror. Dreamcatcher, without achieving any particular excellence, may enlighten as much as it sickens, which may constitute some kind of success.

Dreamcatcher, starring Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Tom Sizemore, Donnie Wahlberg, Michael O'Neill, Rosemary Dunsmore; screenplay by William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan; based on the book by Stephen King; directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Cinemark Tinseltown; Hoyts Greece Ridge; Loews Webster; Pittsford Plaza Cinema; Regal Culver Ridge; Regal Eastview; Regal Henrietta.

You can hear George and his movie reviews on WXXI-FM 91.5 Fridays at 7:15 a.m., rerun on Saturdays at 11:15 a.m.

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