Of all the convoluted story lines competing clumsily for attention in Dreamcatcher, the one about the alien worm that emerges from the anus of its human carrier in a sploosh of funny-gory goo is the one I brought home to impress the family. It was also one of the few plots I could follow in Lawrence Kasdan’s unintelligible adaptation of the 2001 Stephen King novel about…well, so many anxiety-inducing states of being, so few of them comprehensible to those who haven’t read the book. And for what it cost to create that worm’s fearsome, special-effects choppers, they should be.
There’s a flashback ”Stand by Me” subplot involving four best friends who save another boy (nicknamed ”Duddits”) from bullies. In gratitude, the rescued Duddits – brain-damaged to look at him, supernaturally gifted to know him – gives his new friends extrasensory gifts of their own. (His presence is felt in a woven and beaded basketlike ”dreamcatcher,” meant to protect the sleeping – a title object all but ignored in the inelegant screenplay by Kasdan and William Goldman.)
There’s the ”Alien” thing – the production notes forthrightly call the extraterrestrial menace a ”s— weasel” – that’s infecting all of Maine. There’s a ”Men in Black”-ish military-gone-mad subplot in which Colonel Curtis (Morgan Freeman), an old hand at alien busting, now Queegishly bonkers after years of fighting foreign scum, pitilessly plans to wipe out the whole human neighborhood in a final, government-sponsored attempt at eradication. There’s the present-day reunion of the men who were once boys (played, as if in a separate indie film, by Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant, and Damian Lewis). And there’s a heroic last effort by a frail, dying Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg) to stop those damn opportunistic tush parasites from ruining human toilet time once and for all.
”Dreamcatcher” is one of King’s big fat geek settings, crammed – like the ”Memory Warehouse” of catalogued experiences retained in the brain of one of the grown friends – with bits, fancies, and the author’s copious pop-culture free associations. (Average Americans, says Curtis, ”drive Chevrolets, shop at Wal-Mart, and never miss an episode of ‘Friends.”’) The four friends in this horror-com (an environment starkly devoid of women) share a jaunty insiders’ language (”SSDD,” they say, as in ”same s—, different day”). And Freeman the crazy-cowboy colonel can’t speak a sentence to his second-in-command (Tom Sizemore) without turning it into a verbal riff.
What fills some 600 King-size pages, though, is too much and too messy here: Kasdan can create scenes of banter and menace, of everyday Maine community and gut-gushing F/X, but he can’t wrestle this production into a coherent movie experience. And what gets mangled most grievously is the astute insight into the pop-saturated psyches of American boys and men that, for all his romps with horror, is Stephen King’s real writerly talent. The nightmare is that the live guys in this ”Dreamcatcher” lose the battle the minute the mechanical worm turns.