Catchy : Formula works again for King

Dreamcatcher sucks. Not the movie, the title. Maybe if Stephen King could make up better titles, he'd sell more books, right?

It's catchy, no pun intended, and original, but its meaning is so tangential to the film that it builds up totally wrong expectations. Just today someone asked me if it wasn't a Native American horror movie.

No, it's more like Men in Black played straight, with enough Alien thrown in that it's acknowledged with a bit of homage. It's '50s sci-fi on steroids. It's anything but Dreamcatcher.

Director Lawrence Kasdan, who's had a low profile in the last decade after making five acclaimed films out of six tries in the 12 years before that, seems at times to be asking himself, "What would David Lynch do?" (Why, he'd throw in a Roy Orbison record, for example.)

Running two and a quarter hours, Dreamcatcher begins at a leisurely pace, taking its time to get to the stock plot about an alien menace that will threaten our whole planet if it can't be stopped in a small American town. (Watch out, Boston! Don't drink the water!)

The nearly all-male cast of characters is headed by four 30-somethings who have been lifelong friends. For 20 years they've had an annual bonding ritual, spending a weekend together in Hole-in-the-Wall, a cabin in the Maine woods near the town of Derry. More important is the psychic bonding between them, a "gift" from a fifth friend, Duddits, a weird kid they rescued from bullies 20 years ago.

Thomas Jane is solid but unexciting as Dr. Henry Devlin, a psychic psychiatrist and Harvard grad. Timothy Olyphant plays Pete, a car salesman who uses his abilities to attract and repel women at the same time. Jason Lee supplies most of the comic relief as Beaver (not his real name), whose vocabulary is peppered with colorful expressions like "Fuck me, Freddy." He warns Jonesy (Damian Lewis) of danger shortly before Jonesy is struck by a car and nearly killed.

With snow falling, the men break into pairs, Jonesy and Beaver staying in the cabin, and Henry and Pete running an errand. Each pair tries to help a stranger with a red rash and a flatulence problem. As the man in the cabin gives birth to an alien life form, we learn we don't have to worry because the military is already on the case.

Col. Curtis (Morgan Freeman) is about to retire after chasing these aliens for 25 years (although they seem capable of taking over the planet in a few days). A difference of opinion develops between him and his successor, Owen Underhill (Tom Sizemore), over the concept of acceptable losses. Underhill wants to quarantine only people and animals known to be infected, while Curtis wants to wipe out everyone in the area to be certain no aliens escape.

About the only deviation from formula after that is Jonesy's body being partially taken over by an English-accented alien known as "Mr. Gray."

The group's mantra is "SSDD," for "Same Shit Different Day." Kasdan has taken the same shit and made it into what looks like a different movie.

Think of Dreamcatcher as a more serious Tremors without the budget limitations. It might have been better if it had been a little cheesier, or if it had been done as a miniseries to give some aspects of the story more time to develop, but it's fine as it is.

Packaged with Dreamcatcher is Final Flight of the Osiris, an 11-minute computer-animated short that's part of a major merchandising move toward maximizing Matrix mania. Apart from the commercial motivation it's a good piece of work, cramming a lot of plot into its brief span. The director is Andy Jones and the CG characters are, if anything, even more lifelike than those of his feature Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.