Last week, a reader complained constructively that I had abandoned my initial mission in creating My Year Of Flops in favor of cracking cheap jokes and making with the tomfoolery. This reader felt I'd transformed the column into a tawdry vessel for glib one-liners despite having set out to champion the unjustly maligned and unfairly overlooked.
To be honest, I'm surprised I haven't gotten more criticism of this nature. I figured that more people would be irritated that I created a blog feature to promote failed films yet devote most of my columns to mocking bad movies. With that in mind, I decided that My Year Of Flops would go highbrow and fancy-pants with F. Scott Fitzgerald Week, featuring soberly considered re-considerations of 1974's The Great Gatsby, with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, and 1975's The Last Tycoon, starring Robert De Niro and directed by Elia Kazan. Then I immediately began brainstorming bad Great Gatsby jokes. Damn you, brain! Be more smarterer!
I was motivated by the purest, most powerful impulse known to man: the need to prove myself intellectually to an anonymous stranger on the Internet. Alas, I discovered that Gatsby, despite its middling reputation, turned a healthy profit and I couldn't get my hands on a copy of The Last Tycoon. So I was forced to abandon my formidable arsenal of Gatsby jokes.
Now there would be no point in arguing that when reduced to its base components, Gatsby feels like the basis for a teen sex comedy. Let's see, there's this upwardly mobile poor kid (Gatzy) who has this way-major crush on this rich hottie (Daisy) but she totally hooked up with this obnoxious jock (Tom) who's screwing everything that moves. So Gatzy, who has made a lot of money selling bootleg fake I.D.s with a weird Jewish kid, throws all these totally awesome parties hoping she'll be all impressed and whatnot, but then everything goes all kablooie. And shit.
Now I certainly can't reminisce fondly about that Frank Sinatra mini-series from the '90s where The Chairman of the Board sees Farrow engaging in hippy-dippy shenanigans and barks, "I've had it with the wacky tobaccy and your all-night be-ins and the coo-coo-crazy acid-rock freakouts. We're splitsville, Dollface. Don't let the door hit your skinny caboose on the way out!"
I similarly can't riff on how Farrow's years playing a female Woody Allen surrogate completely ruined her as an unattainable object of desire, though Allen himself routinely played characters who prove utterly irresistible to smart, exciting, dynamic, sexy, intelligent women who he would be crazy to reject, even if, you know, they probably think Hegel was a middle-relief pitcher for the Mets and Kierkegaard is a Swedish company that makes inexpensive furniture.
What people don't seem to understand is I have no choice but to make bad jokes. If I think up a joke yet keep it to myself, that Joke becomes angry and lurks around the hallways of my office shooting me dirty looks and making threatening gestures. Or they'll follow me home and swing my cats around by their tales while chiding, "What's a matter, Nathan? All of a sudden you're too good to make jokes like me in your column? Don't you wanna be that Metric System jokes guy, making all that Metric System jokes money? Or don't you like money?"
Yes, that's right: if I think of a bad joke and don't spring it on an unsuspecting world, that joke assumes sentient form and torments me. This is a rare, revealing glimpse into my private hell. It's like something out of a bad Stephen King novel, which brings us to today's entry in My Year Of Flops, 2003's Dreamcatcher, a $70 million special-effects blockbuster with big, respected names on both sides of the camera. If Gatsby is considered the greatest novel in American literature, then Dreamcatcher has to rank a close second. Besides, how many predatory ass weasels from outer space are there in Fitzgerald's oeuvre? Not a single one. Dreamcatcher, on the other hand, is crawling with predatory ass weasels from outer space. It's literally got predatory ass weasels from outer space coming out of (and also into) its ass. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Suck it, Fitzgerald, you no ass-weasel-writing-about-Jazz-Age-symbolizing motherfucker!
Dreamcatcher's first scene establishes the seemingly unsustainable level of craziness it somehow manages to keep up for 134 delirious minutes. "Carl's Jr. has this $6 burger which really only costs $3.95, so you think you're getting some deal, but the truth is it might be the best franchise burger out there" is the film's very first line of dialogue, delivered by a morbidly obese man to troubled shrinkologist Thomas Jane. In what may be a violation of the Hippocratic Oath, Jane uses his astonishing telekinetic powers to torment his hapless patient. "Barry, do you think this compulsive eating has something to do with thinking you killed your mother?," he inquires testily. After his understandably upset patient waddles away in anger, Jane pulls out a handgun, cocks and it and places it to his head. (Incidentally this is what I imagine my psychiatrist does as soon as I leave her office. Prolonged exposure to me has that effect on people.)
But before Jane can pull the trigger, thereby denying the world the tantalizing prospect of Punisher sequels, he gets a crucial phone call and ends up shooting his Harvard degree. We then meet Jane's three closest friends: Horndog Jason Lee with his Elvis Costello glasses and Big Boy pompadour; Damian Lewis, a professor doomed to spend much of the film doing a bad Malcolm McDowell impersonation after his body is possessed by an alien named "Mr. Grey"; and Timothy Olyphant, a hard-drinking car salesman. All of these men were given supernatural powers by a magical, extra-terrestrial mentally challenged kid obsessed with Scooby-Doo during their idyllic boyhood together. But Olyphant's telekinetic skills are particularly impressive.
These psychic friends reunite at a cabin in the woods where they exchange dialogue like the following: "Got blown last night." "Good for you. First time?" "Bite my bag. Met some lady at Bingo. Turned into a pretty nice fuckeree." "Jesus Christ bananas" "Pitching a buzz saw. I've heard some mighty burps in my time, but that's the blue ribbon baby." "This is turning into a double fuckero." "You were a lead balloon way before this porker tried to munch his way to eternity."
Incidentally, Dreamcatcher's screenplay was co-written by director Lawrence Kasdan and William Goldman, who collectively have penned Marathon Man, Body Heat, Empire Strikes Back, The Big Chill, All The President's Men, Misery, The Princess Bride, The Accidental Tourist, and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, and won two Oscars. I like to imagine that Goldman lazily scratched himself with his two Oscar statuettes while he was writing the timeless bits of dialogue cited above.
Stephen King, a pop-culture columnist for Entertainment Weekly who sometimes writes novels and short stories (about a dozen of each every couple of months by my estimation) is famous for artfully synthesizing the fantastic and the mundane, but the bonding sequences here play like a ridiculous, over-the-top burlesque of slangy, ribald guy-talk. The dialogue in Miller's Crossing and Brick is naturalistic and inconspicuous by comparison. From Viagra to "Blue Bayou" to Meg Ryan, the early scenes in Dreamcatcher are where pop-culture references go to die.
Of course, it's entirely possible that there are people out there who actually use phrases like "fuckeroo," "fuckeree", "bite my bag," and callously deride porkers munching their way to eternity, but I've certainly never met them. In its first hour, the film plays like a loose, goofy parody of Stephen King's well-worn tropes and obsessions.
Then the animals begin to flee, the alien ass weasels arrive, and the film abruptly morphs from Stephen King's Clerks to a Max Fischer production of Aliens. For it seems that for 25 years, the United States Government has been battling a secret invasion of malevolent space aliens that grow in the human body and exit out the rectum, but not before leaving a whole lot of toxic flatulence in their wake.
This development poses some unique acting challenges for Olyphant. How do you respond, for example, when an alien ass weasel chomps on your genitalia and you try to extinguish it by dry-humping an open fire? That's the kind of shit they don't teach you at Juliard. Olyphant isn't the only one with unique acting challenges. A little while later, Lewis acts out both parts of many animated conversations between himself and Mr. Grey, the alien occupying his body, who, judging by his accent, is apparently from the British part of outer space.
Lee and Olyphant die hideous deaths early on, leaving Lewis and Jane to stop the alien inside Lewis' body from destroying humanity by dropping a parasite into the Boston water supply. Meanwhile, bad-ass government operatives Morgan Freeman and Tom Sizemore show up to continue their war on E.T.'s anally-fixated cousins.
Normally Freeman's presence in a movie implicitly conveys that no matter how ugly the situation might seem, big daddy Freeman is going to make everything O.K. Conversely, an appearance by Sizemore usually serves as a warning that no matter how well things seem to be going, all hell's about to break loose. The reverse is true here: Freeman is the crazy one and Sizemore's the hero. All bets are off.
Freeman's sonorous voice can give even the sleaziest line a faint air of nobility but even he is hard pressed to make the line, "What about the shit weasels, the ones blasting out of the basement door?" seem like anything more than grade-Z pulp. When considering the "What about the ass weasels?" line, it's important to remember that it was penned by a two-time Oscar winner and delivered by another Oscar winner. Yet Dreamcatcher itself was cruelly overlooked at the 2004 Academy Awards, despite containing what might be the single most exquisitely condescending homage to core American values in cinema history, when Freeman contemplates killing infected civilians and, his voice rising in anguish, intones "Those poor schmucks. They drive Chevrolets, shop at Wal-Mart, never miss an episode off Friends. These are Americans!" By that logic, if you drive a Ford, shop at Target, and miss an occasional episode of Friends, you are at best Canadian.
Dreamcatcher eventually builds to a special-effects-heavy showcase where bad alien Mr. Grey battles good alien Donnie Wahlberg, the grown-up incarnation of the magical little boy with Down Syndrome who gave the fellas their magical powers. Then Lewis literally saves humanity by stepping on an alien worm. The End. That's all, folks.
Like The Apple, Dreamcatcher, continually tops itself in high-concept craziness. Scenes and subplots that would rank as an apex of lunacy in most camp treasures wouldn't even qualify as one of the ten looniest sequences here. It's that bad and also that good.
Including Dreamcatcher in this series is a bit of a cheat since it already has a bit of a cult following of the "Ohmygod this movie is nucking futs! You so need to see it!" variety. The film more than lived up to its reputation for batshit craziness. I only wish it was a half hour shorter. 134 minutes is an awfully long time to spend with these characters, even when predatory ass weasels from outer space and a benevolent, mentally challenged, Leukemia-stricken alien monster played by Donnie Wahlberg are involved. Incidentally I don't know what movie I'll write about for Thursday but I have a sneaking suspicion that jokes about the metric system will be involved.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Secret Success