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Sometimes, evil slips through. Unfortunately, so does a vague feeling that what you're watching should somehow be better than it is. And then comes the creeping sensation that nope, this is as good as it's going to get.

Based on a Stephen King novel that for all intents and purposes was itself based on several other King novels, Dreamcatcher has ambition that carries it further than it has a right to go. For one thing, director Lawrence Kasdan manages to translate the mental landscapes so prevalent in King novels to the screen. The use of old pop songs also runs through, resulting in an adaptation that really feels like the original author.

But the story overflows with so many half-developed ideas that we never really get a sense of why any of these things exist. You get the taste of King, but little more.

By some accounts, that's the way the book goes, too, so not all the blame can go to Kasdan and co-writer William Goldman. In such a case, though, let's advance the heretical notion that screenwriters have a responsibility to keep what works and then make it stronger. Even King has come to understand that.

The film introduces us to four childhood friends, each grown up into different professions and possessing sundry psychic abilities. Car salesman Pete (Timothy Olyphant) can find anything lost by waggling his finger. During therapy sessions, psychiatrist Henry (Thomas Jane) reads the minds of his patients to discover what's really at the root of their problems. As a result, this has made Henry suicidal - at least for one scene.

Less clear with his abilities, Jonesy (Damian Lewis) apparently maintains "the warehouse of memories," a building within his mind in which everything he's ever experienced has a file, with a special locked office for the things he deems really important.

If Beaver (Jason Lee) has any ability beyond that of the obscene wisecrack, it never really translates. Except that all four of them can communicate mentally with each other, within a nebulous geographical range.

Six months after Jonesy has a near fatal run-in with a car (an awkward CG shift), the four friends gather on a hunting trip, and we find out how they got these abilities. As children, they saved a mentally disabled boy, Douglas (Donnie Wahlberg) a.k.a. "Duddits" from bullies. And eventually, he gifted them all with powers that he himself had.

Perhaps at this point your eyes are rolling. No one holds it against you. The weird vibe that runs through this story is that the extraordinary (and occasionally ridiculous) gets treated as utterly mundane. If you buy that, you'll buy into this movie. I still don't know for myself. Every character seems to understand that normality is not the status quo.

Good thing, too, because the real thrust of this story is an alien invasion. Those greys that people claim to sight every now and then? They hide something much, much worse, viral creatures that in their larval state the military has termed "s*** weasels."

If that name doesn't clue you in to their disgusting nesting habits, suffice to say that they birth in an explosion of gore that wars with the more cerebral elements of the story. Even their fungal form looks vaguely like human remains.

And so these four friends must band together in their cabin to fight an incursion from outer space. Mucking things up, of course, is the military, which has been fighting the aliens for twenty-five years or more.

Leading the fight, and none-too-subtly named, the insane Colonel Kurtz (Morgan Freeman) has lost sight of why they fight. Rather than hold out the hope that some humans can survive infection, Kurtz believes in total annihilation.

For our heroes, the problem comes when one of them does survive, sharing his body with an alien that dubs itself Mister Gray. Though there's no reason for it, Gray manifests himself with a cheery British accent.

But that's par for the course in this film. With every twist, every complication, there's no reason for it. The filmmakers know it, too, dodging the issue with suspense, action, and when all else fails, gore. Hopefully, you'll be too grossed out to ask why.

Every actor acquits himself well, though Wahlberg tends to channel Damon Wayans' Handi-Man just a little too much. In the real leading roles, Lewis and Jane keep our attention. Yes, Thomas Jane could easily be Frank Castle; just dye his hair black and slap that skull on his chest.

Supporting them, Olyphant and Lee just don't have enough time to do much. For Lee that's not a problem; he just does his thing. It may be time to admit that he doesn't have leading man capabilities, but as a character actor, few can touch him. Olyphant looks poised to be more important than he is here.

In an odd but potentially cool casting choice, Tom Sizemore shows up as the sane military guy. Actually, not just sane, but sympathetic. You know the world is upside down when Sizemore possesses the sensitive voice of reason.

Dreamcatcher is an entertaining enough ride, but I can't shake the feeling that I have to read the book. It's not that the whole story isn't there, it's just that the answers it gives feel incomplete, and not in a "read between the lines" kind of way. Duddits, obviously, is not what he seems, but even in a fantastic world, I feel owed an explanation as to what he actually is.

For some of you, the real reason to go will be The Final Flight of the Osiris. Be warned: at the preview screening, Warner had it trailing Dreamcatcher, so you may need to stay through the credits.

What's It Worth? $5.50

Derek McCaw

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