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2003, Warner Bros.
Thomas Jane, Morgan Freeman, Damian Lewis
Lawrence Kasdan
MPAA Rating:
[R] violence, language
Science Fiction/Horror
134 minutes

A rogue military agency battles an extraterrestrial threat, and childhood friends find themselves in the middle of the conflict.

What's Good
a gruesome bathroom scene
inventive depiction of the conflict in one character's mind

What's Bad
a wildly cheesy blend of sci-fi and horror
crammed full of self-indulgent Stephen King gimmicks
mostly unscary and ludicrous, with a particularly weak ending
stupid characters spouting stupid catchphrases

Reviewer: Andrew Manning (September 2003)

People familiar with the stories of Stephen King can tell you that the modern horror writer has a lot of recurring themes in his work: sleepy towns in Maine, childhood friends, schoolyard bullies, troubled adults with substance addictions, annoying catchphrases, and seemingly helpless individuals with extraordinary gifts. In his self-indulgent Dreamcatcher, named for a Native American charm believed to ensnare and neutralize nightmares, all of these rehashed gimmicks come together in a weak, hokey blend of science fiction and horror.

Taking center stage in this ill-conceived tale is a group of old pals: Henry, Pete, Beaver, and Jonesy. As kids, they befriended a retarded boy called Duddits who imparted a psychic gift to each of them. Since then, they have been able to communicate telepathically, read minds, and receive premonitions. Now, as adults, they realize that a big evil is in the works, and that Duddits may hold the key to stopping it.

During an annual hunting retreat to a cabin in the woods, the gang encounters people and animals bearing mysterious scars. Before they can say "Cujo," they are quarantined by a rogue military organization dedicated to eradicating alien threats--as it turns out, their wilderness retreat is ground zero of the latest extraterrestrial hot zone.

Blending the worst elements of King's bloated beast of a novel It with his Invasion of the Body Snatchers ripoff, The Tommyknockers, Dreamcatcher desperately tries to force fit science fiction horror with supernatural themes--and it simply doesn't work. Viewers expecting a supernatural thriller may be alienated by the aliens, while those in the market for outer space action may be psyched out by all the psychic junk. Meanwhile, audience members from both camps will likely groan in unison at the more ridiculous moments. What can you say about a movie in which a sickly, handicapped person hobbles through the door, drawls a riff from the Scooby-Doo theme song, mutates into a funky creature, fights an alien, and explodes into a cloud of red spores? I don't know what's the most unbelievable: the scene itself, the characters' too-casual reaction to the whole thing, or the ridiculously abrupt ending that follows in total cop out fashion.

Dreamcatcher has assembled some of King's most uninteresting stock characters. Henry is a depressed professional and Pete is a borderline booze hound; but for all the dramatic clamor, the personal demons that haunt them never amount to anything significant--in fact, they are dismissed as quickly as they are introduced. Meanwhile, the main purpose of having dudes named Beaver and Jonesy seems to be a cheap attempt at adding color to this bleak palette of personas.

And as if the blandness of its characters wasn't annoying enough, Dreamcatcher pushes the envelope of aggravation by making them stupid as well. One is killed when his nervous preoccupation with toothpicks causes him to become unthinkably careless, allowing a trapped alien to break free and mutilate his fool ass to pulp. Imagine having your hands clamped around a lethally poisonous snake's mouth while your friend goes to get help. If you hold on for five minutes, you'll be fine, but if you let go, the snake will bite you. Suddenly, you are bedazzled by a shiny nickel on the ground. Tempted beyond any notion of self-preservation, you dive for said coin, and said reptile nails you right in the jugular. That's the kind of nonsense we're talking about in Dreamcatcher's first major death scene.

Later, another character buys the farm after a casual conversation with an alien. While human and inhuman are chatting, the victim provokes the interstellar killer and seals his immediate death by taunting, "Bite my bag." (This is one of the film's stupid catchphrases, along with the idiotic "F*** me, Freddy.") A bit of wisdom for those confronted with possibly hostile extraterrestrials: do not unduly piss them off by challenging them to bite your bag, giving them the finger, poking them with a stick, or talking trash about their motherships. It can't possibly help your situation.

The only glimmer of hope in the character department comes from Morgan Freeman's performance as the military leader in charge of wiping out the alien menace. With his mix of insanity, patriotism, and ruthlessness, he is the only one who shows signs of depth. But anything that might have been interesting about his character quickly melts into the two-dimensional landscape of his surroundings as he devolves into a generic "evil crazy psycho-solider." His sidekick (Tom Sizemore in yet another military role) doesn't paint the armed forces in a better light--he's a weak willed creampuff so easily coerced into disobeying his commanding officer that one wonders how he landed his position in the first place.

Dreamcatcher sports a few moments that keep it from being a total waste: Beaver and Jonesy discovering the sheer carnage in the cabin bathroom is tense and brutal, while some inner turmoil that goes on in Jonesy's mind is depicted in an inventive and highly visual way that translates well to film. But for the most part, this is a movie loaded with gimmicky garbage from beginning to end. Even King's use of the dreamcatcher as a metaphor for the hero is a gimmick--one that desperately reaches for vague coherency so that the title, at least, can be more interesting than the story.

Rating: 3 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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