Even Morgan Freeman can't save 'Dreamcatcher'

Stephen King's novel "Dreamcatcher" sprawls all over the place for 600-plus pages, encompassing mental telepathy, alien invasion, military paranoia, disaster of worldwide proportions, early

midlife crisis, life, death, distress of the lower intestine, alcoholism, the importance of childhood friendships and much more, written with heart and without brevity in a seemingly unending forward motion.

"Dreamcatcher" the movie keeps all of these plot elements, but takes out all the character development and explanations. What's left is a head-scratchingly silly B-movie, blending boyish sentiment and cheesy creature effects, that even Morgan Freeman can't save. It's hard to imagine what director Lawrence Kasdan ("Body Heat," "The Big Chill") could have been thinking; perhaps an alien took over the editing room.

Though many of King's novels have successfully been brought to the screen, this one arrives with the whiff of desperation — and of something else. It's as if the author was issuing a wicked challenge to filmmakers: How do you make flatulence, here intended to convey a mysterious inner presence, scary? Or cinematically create aliens that spectacularly emerge from one's intestinal tract — "blasting out the basement door," as Freeman's character cryptically notes?

In William Goldman and Kasdan's too-literal adaptation of the novel, we quickly meet the four childhood friends at the center of the story, who've kept their bond over the years because of an old friendship with an angelic, telepathic disabled boy named Duddits. (He's not really a character, just a sentimental plot device.) Henry (Thomas Jane), Pete (Timothy Olyphant), Jonesy (Damian Lewis) and Beav (Jason Lee), all grown up with problems of their own, reunite for their annual hunting trip to a remote Maine cabin.

When a disoriented hunter named Rick (Eric Keenlyside) stumbles out of the woods, complaining of hellish digestive distress — well, off we go on King's roller-coaster, as something nasty slithers out of Rick and gets busy redecorating the cabin in what looks like blood-red mold. Meanwhile, the animals all mysteriously skedaddle, as if they're heading off for Noah's Ark. And ... well, it gets weirder from there.

The cast, particularly Lee, valiantly tries to have a little fun with this — we're clearly not in the realm of serious horror. But it's a lost cause, and sometimes their desperation is visible. They're simply given nothing to play — even Freeman, who can usually find a character where none existed on the page, draws a blank. (His nutso alien hunter is named Kurtz — as in "Heart of Darkness"/ "Apocalypse Now" — in the book. The screenwriters changed the name to Curtis, presumably to avoid providing any insight.)

And, well, let's just talk for a minute about those aliens, who bear a rather alarming resemblance to a male body part normally not glimpsed at the multiplexes — that is, if that body part had teeth. (Skeptics should consult page 178 in the hardcover edition of "Dreamcatcher," in which King describes the creature using metaphoric language I cannot repeat in this family newspaper.) This, plus the creatures' propensity to attack male victims in the crotch, seems at times to be turning "Dreamcatcher" into some sort of odd statement on male anxiety, into which I dare not probe. Please. It's scary enough thinking about what kind of description was given to the creatures' hapless behind-the-scenes builders.

"Dreamcatcher" is showing with "Final Flight of the Osiris," inspired by "The Matrix" and intended to stir up excitement for "The Matrix Reloaded," which opens May 15.

A combination of CG animation and Japanese anime, it's occasionally thrilling and more often silly (yes, thong underwear is quite popular in the cyberfuture).

Moira Macdonald:206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Movie Review

"Dreamcatcher," with Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, from a screenplay by William Goldman and Kasdan, based on the novel by Stephen King. 136 minutes. Rated R for violence, gore and language. Several theaters. Showing with the short film "Final Flight of the Osiris," directed by Andy Jones.