'Dreamcatcher' is tedious, unfocused and unbelievable

Review: "Dreamcatcher" with Damian Lewis, Thomas Jane. Rated R, for violence, gore and language. 131 min. In Missoula (Carmike 10), Kalispell (Liberty), Polson (Showboat), Hamilton (Roxy Twin). ONE STAR

"Dreamcatcher" is unspeakably bad - and shockingly so - considering that it's an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, from the director of "The Big Chill" (Lawrence Kasdan) and the writer of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (William Goldman).

These are people who have Oscars and Oscar nominations, people who have worked in this business long enough that there's no plausible explanation for a film that is so woefully unfocused and misguided.

The story of four longtime friends in rural Maine who communicate telepathically is all over the place. It starts out with glimmers of "Stand By Me" and ends up as a rehash of "Alien." In between, it can't decide whether it's an inspirational, supernatural drama or a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi thriller, and never fully succeeds at becoming either.

There's hope in the beginning, though, when we meet the four friends - professor Jonesy (Damian Lewis), psychiatrist Henry (Thomas Jane), car salesman Pete (Timothy Olyphant) and carpenter Beaver (Jason Lee).

When they call each other on the phone, they know who's on the other end before picking it up, and they sense ahead of time when another member of their group is in potential danger. It's a gift that was transferred to them as children from a mentally retarded friend named Duddits (played as an adult by Donnie Wahlberg), whom they rescued from a bully attack.

This alone could have been a spooky, intriguing premise for a movie, even though we've traveled this psychic territory in King adaptations before. (As if it weren't obvious who the author is behind "Dreamcatcher," a flashback scene to 20 years earlier, when the friends walk along a railroad track, takes us back to "Stand By Me." Similarly, moments when the foursome is isolated and snowbound are reminiscent of "The Shining.")

But then the aliens come - or rather, the people carrying alien spawns.

At one point, the ESP has grown conspicuously selective among the four friends. One of the aliens takes over Jonesy's body and forces him to speak in a broad British accent, and none of his friends perceives this.

As if this weren't campy enough, Curtis - on the brink of an insanity that's never really explained - shoots off the finger of a soldier who lies to him, then says cheekily, "I lost my temper." Lee and Olyphant know how to pull off this kind of dark humor, but it feels awkward on everyone else.

We can only hope that the humor is intended, though, because everything else about "Dreamcatcher" seems so haphazard.

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