on March 21, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
Marked by a couple of masterful performances in skillfully written singular roles, expertly crafted horror scenes adrenalized by suspense and gore and a metaphor for the mind brilliantly conceived and made real, “Dreamcatcher,” based on the novel by Stephen King, also is characterized by relationships and dialogue a bit too earnest and an absurd subplot not satisfactorily resolved.

Four friends since childhood (Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis and Timothy Olyphant), connected telepathically by a traumatic event in their youth, gather in a winter cabin for a weekend of drinking, hunting and reminiscing. They stumble upon a lost hunter suffering from a mysterious intestinal ailment (replete with bodily rumblings sure to please the young male demographic), but it soon becomes apparent that there's more at work here than some bad berries--and it has something to do with the military rounding up the rural area's residents.

During a bloody battle that ensues in the cabin, Jonesy (Lewis, who garnered much-deserved attention for his discreet work in TV's “Band of Brothers”) is inhabited by an alien creatures bent on infecting the world with its species. This device not only demonstrates Lewis' acute talent--Jonesy and the alien invader, who goes by Mr. Gray, engage in back-and-forth repartee, helped by some sharp editing, and are each a far cry from the sensitive soldier he portrayed in “Brothers”--but provides opportunity to mine the character's “memory warehouse,” referred to casually in an expository scene in the film, for cinematic imagery.

In one of the film's more brilliantly conceived set pieces, Jonesy's mind is rendered as an antiquated, cylindrical library, where his memories are stored, filed and rearranged as needed in cardboard moving boxes. Within the stacks is a vault, a secret room in which Jonesy hides when the alien occupies his mind. The trespasser is unable to enter this secure area, and it is from here that Jonesy watches the alien's--his--actions. In addition, it becomes clear that the intruder is afraid of a man named Duddits--the very character who united Jonesy and his pals so many years ago--and, when the alien is distracted, Jonesy slips outside his sanctuary and packs up his Duddits-related memories to secure them in the vault. When the vicious creature catches on to the ruse, a thrilling chase ensues down the spiral ramp that rings the room.

Also effective in their performances are Lee as Jonesy's anxious buddy, constantly chewing on toothpicks, and the eminently talented Donnie Wahlberg in a small yet central role as Duddits, a mentally handicapped yet supernaturally powerful character.

But despite these moments of elegance, “Dreamcatcher” is also at times embarrassingly clumsy. The relationships among the lifelong men is a bit too ardent, and they talk to each other in juvenile cultural references such as “Scooby-Doo” and “Mighty Mouse,” allusions that are jarringly silly coming from the mouths of men before flashbacks reveal their beginnings. In order to set up Duddits' otherworldly origins, one of the characters expresses his suspicions as such to an unresponsive listener (another victim of the alien infection). As it plays out, the scene--likely addressed as internal monologue in the story's original form--is awkward and obvious.

And, meanwhile, a potentially intriguing subplot--about a military general out of control (played by Morgan Freeman, sleepwalking through the blustery role), his strategy to quarantine and kill anyone infected by the aliens and the contrary train of thought that some of the victims survive and so shouldn't be unilaterally massacred--fizzles at the end of the film, its dramatic promise shelved in a case of a two-hour-plus film nonetheless still trying to do too much. Starring Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Timothy Olyphant and Donnie Wahlberg. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Written by William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan. Produced by Lawrence Kasdan and Charles Okun. A Warner Bros. release. Horror. Rated R for violence, gore and language. Running time: 136 min

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