Sappy storyline makes Dreams a nightmare

One critic quoted in advertisements for What Dreams May Come (PolyGram Films) hails the film as “a masterpiece.” But when an all-star cast and $75 million in stellar special effects cannot salvage a corny premise and a poorly devised plot, the movie hardly can be touted as a masterpiece.

What Dreams May Come is nothing more than 106 minutes of eye candy to go along with over-priced Jujy Fruits.

Based on the Richard Matheson novel of the same name, What Dreams May Come is the story of Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting), a devoted husband and father whose family suffers a variety of fatal tragedies.

First, his two children are killed in a car accident. Then, Chris is killed in another car accident. Finally, in a state of utter loneliness and depression, Chris’s wife, Annie (Annabella Sciorra, Cop Land), commits suicide. Somewhere along the line, the dog dies, too.

The trouble is that each of the Nielsens ends up in a different realm of the afterworld. Chris must go on a quest through heaven and hell to reunite with his children and then risk his soul to find his wife in hell.

The subject matter of heaven and hell is risky and, above all, really trite. Many of the world’s religions subscribe to some belief in an afterlife. While the film claims to offer more of a spiritual afterlife than a religious one, the heaven and hell portrayed in the movie undoubtedly conflict with many post-death visions. It is commendable to challenge Hollywood’s standard depiction – angels floating on white clouds in heaven and the red, fiery pits of Hell. Regardless, the vision of the afterlife presented in the film will prove hard to swallow for most viewers.

When Chris reunites with his children in heaven, his 10-year-old daughter first appears to him as an Asian airline stewardess (Rosalind Chow, The Joy Luck Club). His 15-year-old son appears to him as an African American guardian angel (Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire). Go figure.

The script itself is stale and unchallenging. Through uninteresting dialogue, the characters share telling parent-child moments, but the emotion of the film simply is too forced. The character of Annie either is screaming and crying or laughing maniacally – and on neither occasion is she believable. And, with Chris and Annie sharing “Deep Thoughts” like “Sometimes when you lose, you win,” viewers surely will roll their eyes.

The film’s romantic element revolving around Chris and Annie is clich?d and predictable. The movie suggests the two are soul mates, and the viewer doesn’t have to wait until the end to discover that Hollywood once again has eternal love in store for the couple.

When Williams, fresh from his Oscar-winning role in Good Will Hunting, cannot salvage a script, the movie is clearly a dud. The whole tear-jerking plot is not lightened or made human by any of Williams’ signature comic relief. Even the charismatic Gooding Jr. cannot help the flawed script.

What is refreshing about What Dreams May Come, however, is how the $75 million budget was spent. Aside from one car crash sequence, the money was used to create a rich vision of the afterlife, instead of asteroids destroying Earth, dinosaurs coming back to life, or ocean liners sinking.

The special effects and sheer technology of the movie make it a stunning spectacle. But, ultimately, these film tricks are not enough to keep the audience intrigued.

The director of the film initially worried people would mistakenly hear the title What Dreams May Come as “Wet Dreams May Come,” though the actual title is taken from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Confusion surrounding the title is the least of the movie’s problems.

What Dreams May Come opens in theaters Friday.

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