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DREAMCATCHERS

MONSTER-BAITERS

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Though they're all nice, bright, good-looking young guys, the four friends in Dreamcatcher are not doing so well in life. One is suicidal; a couple of them drink too much. And all of them are alone, except for each other. This being the movies, what binds them is a boyhood incident that mysteriously allowed them to communicate with each other telepathically, as well as to read the minds of others -- leaving them closer together, and alienated from everyone else.

There's a story here. Maybe it's one about hanging onto childhood friends; maybe it's one about moving on. But this being the movies, and this being an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, director and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan can't stop there. In fact, he can't seem to stop anywhere in a film that, along with last year's Signs, might herald a new subgenre: the journey of personal discovery framed as an apocalyptic thriller about extraterrestrial invasion.

Ah, yes, the extraterrestrials: You don't see them coming in Dreamcatcher. I guess you're not supposed to. But then they show up, and in their various manifestations they explain a lot. They resemble thick-bodied, venous snakes, except that their mouths are moist vertical slits lined with several rows of artery-shredding teeth. When they first hatch (yes, like in Alien, a debt Kasdan acknowledges) they are wriggling, big-headed worms that swarm like sperm to an egg -- and it turns out that should just one of them reach its target, it would ruin everything.

So Dreamcatcher is a regular Freudian Valu-Pak whose monsters at once signify big dicks and fear of castration. The film's basic drive is to protect its likable heroes from violation by the outside world. No coincidence that there are just two female speaking roles, that both are ancillary, and that when pals like the ones played by Thomas Jane and Damian Lewis need reinforcements, they seek the aid of another childhood buddy, a retarded guy named Duddits, whom they once saved from a beating and who is the possibly magical reason for their powers.

But even if Dreamcatcher is about the virtues of kindness, it negates that message, too, by suggesting -- courtesy of the misdeeds of shape-shifting aliens -- that we shouldn't help distressed people, who'll only betray us, nor should we heed the pleas of victims of military attacks, who are only trying to trick us so they can take over the world.

Whatever story's being told, it gets buried in the snowy woods of Maine -- where the aliens who are trying to kill everybody are pursued by a bonkers secret-ops colonel (Morgan Freeman) who's been fighting them for 25 years, with heavy artillery (and no civilians any the wiser) -- and in a plot whose incomprehensibility only mounts. And if this is after all a movie about growing up, you wonder why it's framed as a juvenile fantasy. *

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