Dennis Quaid will molest your subconscious: “Dreamscape”

February 2, 2012

Hard as it is to believe, there was a time–maybe not so long ago, well, yeah, it was a while ago—when Dennis Quaid’s presence in a film did not evoke the same reaction as hearing your physician snap on a latex glove. See, before Quaid was synonymous with oh-God-this-is-going-to-hurt movies like Pandorum and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. And Horsemen and Vantage Point and Legion, he was known as a hunky leading man to watch, scoring critical and commercial hits with Innerspace, Enemy Mine, and The Big Easy . But, uh, before that there was Dreamscape, and that was…well, kind of a harbinger, if you will. Dreamscape isn’t a bad movie, and not quite a stupid one, but it isn’t as smart as it wants you to think it is. It’s also very goofy. But, hey, if you ever wanted to see Dennis Quaid fight a human cobra, well, I don’t know where else you’d look.

The quickest way to describe Dreamscape is to say that it’s basically Inception, except without everything that made Inception good. Once again, we have the notion of entering people’s dreams to influence their actions and decisions, only rather than do cool things like get into gunfights and walk on walls and stuff, they basically just dick around.

We start out with Quaid playing an irascible rogue named Alex Gardner. He played a lot of cocky rogues in his youth, back when that creepy, “I’m-gonna-take-you-back-to-my-double-wide-for-lots-of-foreplayless-sex” grin was considered wolfish. Anyway, he’s got some precognantive ability, I guess, and he’s been playing the ponies, and…apparently isn’t a great precog, since he’s running from bookies. Well, he gives them the slip, only to get picked up by some scary government types.

“Hey baby, you look like you could use a little Quaid in you.”

The G-men bring him to a research facility on a college campus where he’s greeted by Max von Sydow, who, let’s face it, is the last guy you want to meet at then end of a sinister car ride. Or, hell, at the end of a Central Park carriage ride. The dude played chess against Death for fuck’s sake. The only time you want to meet Max is when you’re possessed by the demon Pazuzu. Anyway, MVS plays Dr. Paul Novotny, some sort of brain-scientist guy who worked with Alex on his mental abilities. Only now, Novotny has a new, more ambitious project: projecting one’s consciousness into the dreams of another person.

Alex reluctantly joins the project and finds himself working with scientist Jane DeVries played by Kate Capshaw. Now before you bolt for the door, I gotta say, Capshaw is a pretty good actress when she’s playing things straight and smart. This movie, if nothing else, shows us how much better Temple of Doom would have been if Capshaw had been able to play Willie Scott as a hardboiled dame instead of a hysterical twit. Oh, and he’s also partnered with Tommy Ray Glatman, another precog and a complete dillhole.

“This pink V-neck doin’ it for you, babe? Yeah, let’s continue this conversation over some Zimas.”

So they experiment with the technology some, and, make some progress, and eventually move on to actual human trials. What they do is, to be honest, really underwhelming. Like, they go into one dude’s dream to help him with his marital troubles, and discover he’s having dreams about his wife banging everyone in sight. From this they determine he has a deep-seated insecurity about himself. Ah, now wouldn’t a couple therapy sessions have uncovered the same thing? I mean, I’m not a dream-scientist or anything, but it sure seems that way to me.

Next, Alex goes into the dreams of a troubled little kid named Buddy. I shit you not, Buddy. Alex discovers that lil’ Buddy is terrorized by a snake-man in his dreams, so he helps the kid defeat the snake man by using the manly tactic of screaming, running, and generally getting pwned by the snake-man until Buddy finally gets sick of Alex’s panicked begging and cuts off the thing’s head. No, the snake-man doesn’t represent, say, abuse at the hands of his father or Little League coach like in that Buffy episode. He just had a bad dream about a snake-man, and at Alex’s urgings, decapitates the thing. Wanna take bets that Buddy’s future contains a lot of dead hookers and wearing a human skull like a yamulke?

…and Dennis Quaid just wet himself.

Okay, so far so good. Well, they think so, anyway, and who are we to say otherwise? Things hit a snag when one patient dies after Tommy Ray went into her dream. Something went wrong, obviously, and since when you die in your dreams you die in real life, Alex suspects Tommy Ray murdered her. Why would he do that? He’s bugnuts insane, that’s why.

Still, they get a big assist when one of the project’s bigwigs, Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer) convinces the President of the United States to undergo this therapy to cure him of his nightmares about a nuclear apocalypse before he enters into some extremely important nuclear arms talks with the Soviets (readers born after 1990, you may want to hit up Wikipedia right now to make sense of that sentence).

Christopher Plummer. I’m sure he’s the good guy, right?

Okay, so do I have to tell you that Blair is bent? Fer chrissakes, he tried to frame Captain Kirk and start a war with the Klingons. You don’t cast Plummer for his avuncular humanism, right? Well, Alex pokes around a bit and discovers that Tommy Ray murdered his father and spent his formative years in an insane asylum. Yep, they have a dream-assassin in their midst. On top of that, a novelist of conspiracy thrillers (George Wendt) warns Alex that Blair is a highly-placed, very connected black ops dude. And then he’s killed by Blair’s goons amid a massive crowd on campus. You know, because the best place to kill someone is in the middle of a big crowd. Oh, wait, no that’s just the opposite. And, hey, they just killed Norm! Need further proof Blair’s a bad guy?

“You’ve been vetoed, bitch!”

So, that’s Dreamscape. Still, I have some niggling questions like:

* Is killing the President in his dreams really the easiest way to affect arms-control policy? I mean, what? They couldn’t line up some wealthy Republican donors to dump truckloads of money on the White House lawn? That’s always worked before.

* And what is this whole “when-you-die-your-dreams-you-die-in-reality” BS? I die in my dreams all the time, and I have it on good authority that people other than Haley Joel Osmet can see me. 

* The less said about Alex’s uninvited invasion of Jane’s dream in order to have sex with her the better. First off, it’s skeevy as hell. Second, you kind of get the impression it’s the sort of douche move Quaid would really pull.

* Speaking of skeevy, it’s really disturbing whenever Quaid points that The-Joker-as-sex-offender grin at anyone who’s not Kate Capshaw, like MVS. Or a horse.

* Novoty is murdered by Blair after he learns Blair’s plans and threatens to go to the authorities. Dude, the guy is planning to assassinate the President!  Maybe a little bluffing would be good right now.

* The snake-man is a good lesson in why CGI was invented.

* Quaid gets the girl in the end. You know, the one he dream-raped? That’s how much Hollywood liked the grin (in fairness, the movie says, she probably wanted it).

* Eddie Albert played the President. Funny, someday we’ll have to explain to our kids why, in old movies, the president was always played by an old, white dude.

* This poster has nothing to do with the movie.


  1. Man, I loved Dreamscape when I was a kid. I think I watched it a bunch of times on record disc rented from the local Zenith store. I watched it again a few years back, and I thought it still wasn’t half bad, though I admit I may have been blinded by nostalgia.

    And I think everything on that poster is in the movie, it’s just arranged to look more like some Indiana Jones clone.

  2. you can’t say the thing that did something first did it “once again” after the thing that imitated it. Time flows one way.

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