Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Unidentified flying chunks

Lawrence Kasdan reaches for the Big Thrill and brings up nada.

Posted By and on Wed, Mar 26, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Geezer: no stars/Weezer: 1 star

After more than 20 years of writing and directing some pretty notable movies (e.g. 1983’s The Big Chill), Lawrence Kasdan should do better than heave his undigested lunch on-screen. Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name and a screenplay by Kasdan and the usually solid William Goldman, Dreamcatcher is a major disappointment.

It’s the sci-fi horror tale of four boyhood friends who rescue a supposedly “retarded” kid named Duddits from serious mistreatment by sadistic jocks. But Duddits, who’s much more than an idiot savant, gives the boys a taste of mental powers — telepathy, prescience and such — that bond them together. One weekend 20 years later, the guys have a reunion in a cabin in the snowy Maine woods and things turn freaky deaky.

Weezer: I really wanted to like this film. There were things throughout it I didn’t like and I kept looking past them for something that I could sink my teeth into. But that ship never sailed.

Geezer: King seems to throw in everything he remembers from every horror movie he’s ever seen.

Weezer: Elements from Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing and Screamers — all those successful formulas from other movies. He took them and mishmashed them together.

Geezer: And the casting — Morgan Freeman and Tom Sizemore as heads of a special-op anti-alien squad are like some totally useless Men in Black.

Weezer: Their roles could be played by anyone. The guy who plays Gen. Mathis for 10 seconds here does his job just as well as Freeman does, since his presence just boils down to: “I’m military personnel. I’ve got my uniform on.” Freeman and Sizemore are here for name recognition.

Geezer: I can’t imagine what got into Kasdan. The acting in the opening scenes is so corny. I said to myself, “God, I hope this movie kicks into gear soon.”

Weezer: We sure wade through a lot of crap before the fireworks.

Geezer: But even when they do start — with the blood and the alien “thing” coming out of one guy’s ass — I guess you could justify that if a movie was incredibly serious and riveting.

Weezer: Like Cronenberg’s bio-horror.

Geezer: Yeah, but here it’s so gratuitously slimy.

Weezer: It’s just a bunch of potty humor. You’ve got this big turd with a bunch of teeth that comes out of the toilet trying to kill Beaver (Jason Lee). And then it tries to bite Pete’s (Timothy Olyphant) dick off while he’s peeing.

Geezer: Ultimately this movie’s downfall is its story. It’s so complex, with so many different elements, that the film is never allowed to set a tone. When you see these guys in the forest in a snowstorm, you think, “Oh, that’s really cool.” It’s like The Shining and a number of other film setups. But it immediately violates that intimate, trapped-in-the-wilderness tone by bringing in the military. At this point in American history, we’ve got such an incredible fetishism about helicopters and guns … I thought, “What are you robots doing here?”

Weezer: Instead of just four guys in a cabin confronting evil with their wits and hunting rifles — man vs. nature or some supernatural creature — now you have Hummers and choppers with rocket-launchers on them.

Geezer: Then the special-ops go out to find the crashed flying saucer and it all turns into Star Wars, with their helicopters fighting the Death Star. It’s as if King went to the cupboard of horror ideas and, instead of imagining something all his own, took the old ingredients …

Weezer: And put them in a blender.

Geezer: Trouble is, he made one of those little kid’s concoctions, with ketchup, corn flakes, chocolate ice cream, dog turds and so on.

Weezer: Despite all the recycled ideas, this still could’ve been a successful film. But the filmmakers don’t try to link them up. The film seems so jagged, so disembodied from itself.

Then there’s little messiah Duddits who can do anything. It’s completely ridiculous that he even needs his four pawn friends to help him with anything. He has the power the whole time — so, knowing this alien attack is going to happen in 20 years, why doesn’t he stop it himself? It seems moronic. And what about that raspberry jam-looking stuff everywhere?

Geezer: In H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Colour Out of Space,” an alien substance creeps around and covers everything — only it’s a dull gray-green, not red — and it turns everything into crumbling rot. As soon as I saw the cabin in Dreamcatcher being taken over by that red fungus, it reminded me of Lovecraft’s story. I thought, “There’s another reference.” King, in his own defense, could say that there aren’t many new ideas in horror, that what horror does is combine ideas people have had in the past …

Weezer: That’s bullshit. Look at some of King’s earlier, completely innovative books. No one ever made anything like them before. So for him to have his imagination just run out of juice, that’s his own fault.

If you take away all the clichés in Dreamcatcher, push away all that dirt, you get down to this teeny speck of originality. That part — the interior monologues and memory library of Jonsey (Damian Lewis) — is kind of interesting. But the movie’s so heavily cluttered with secondhand material that it just sinks.

George Tysh (Geezer) is the Metro Times arts editor. Bruno Tysh (Weezer) is a high school senior. E-mail them at gtysh@metrotimes.com.

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