(2003) * 1/2 R
136 min. Warner Bros.. Director: Lawrence Kasdan. Cast: Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Tom Sizemore.

The film adaptation of Stephen King's 800-page tome Dreamcatcher might more aptly be named Dreamsieve, for all the command it has over image and idea. Sprawlingly incoherent, Dreamcatcher trawls the last fifty years of sci-fi cinema and tosses each catch of the days into a chowder of narrative viscera. Stephen King may have writer-director Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) and beloved screenwriter William Goldman (Hearts in Atlantis) on his side, with a sturdy ensemble capped by Morgan Freeman, but something, somewhere, has gone horribly wrong. Perhaps alien body-snatchers are to blame.

In an awkward, set-'em-up, knock-'em-down exposition, Goldman and Kasdan introduce four full-grown childhood friends: Jonesy (Damian Lewis), Henry (Thomas Jane), Pete (Timothy Olyphant), and Beaver (Jason Lee). Behaving as characters in screenplays do, the foursome from small-town Maine sit uneasily with encroaching age, one of them nearly blowing his own brains out in the opening minutes of the film. But it's that time of year again when they have their annual reunion in a north woods cabin, so off they go to bust each other's balls and retell tales of saving retarded boys from bullies. Well, just one retarded boy, who like all retarded people in movies has a special gift for his middle-class friends: in this case, telepathic ability. Donnie Wahlberg plays the full-grown Duddits, dragged around to be, I guess, rabbit ears for his telepathic buddies.

Then the story gets weird, with an alien eruption of sorts (an allusion to Alien seems designed to head off trigger-happy critics). The nasty little critters do unmentionable things to our privatest of parts, and invade one character whose psyche must retreat into his "Memory Warehouse" to hide. This conceit--interpreted concretely as a musty, cluttered library--is the film's most intriguing but gets quickly drowned out in the rapidly escalating plot complications. Kasdan takes marginally more interest in the same character's alien-inhabited body, now speaking in the mysteriously English-accented tones of a "Mr. Gray." Why? Perhaps readers of the novel can answer that question, but I sure can't.

While the buddies stumble about the snowy woods to save the world grass-roots-style, Morgan Freeman's Col. Kurtz (oh, brother) unhinges rapidly, bent on razing the whole region with cataclysmic military methodology. In a refreshing change of pace, Tom Sizemore plays the sane one, trying to reason with (and eventually work against) Kurtz. So, for those keeping score, it's The Big Chill meets The Thing meets Outbreak. As if to illustrate the film's shiftlessness, Kasdan resorted, in the editing room, to awkward "wipes."

The scattered pleasures of Dreamcatcher range from the credibly profane macho talk to the stupid but infinitely memorable sequence which introduces the aliens to the witless heroes to the eccentric dialogue, including both a line of Robert Frost poetry and the observation "They never miss an episode of Friends...these are Americans." The result is a perpetually unconvincing movie, far too arch for its own good, drowning its storytelling impulse in a sea of miscellany. By the time a drunk explains the plot to a corpse, the story is irredeemable.

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