By Rod Lott.
With Dreamland, the Canadian creative triumvirate of raconteurs behind 2008’s beloved Pontypool are back together, Musketeers-style: director Bruce McDonald, writer Tony Burgess and actor Stephen McHattie. To cut right to the chase, lightning does not strike twice.
Set in Europe – the part that throbs with the neon vibe of Leos Carax’s Holy Motors – Dreamland finds McHattie in a dual role, playing a hit man named Johnny and a trumpet player named Trumpet Player who is clearly Chet Baker. (Viewers need not worry about confusing the two, as Johnny is the one with long hair, while Not Chet is the one injecting smack between his toes.)
The former is tasked with cutting off the right pinkie finger of the latter, but decides not to go through with it upon discovering his employer, Hercules (1990s punk icon Henry Rollins), is running a child-prostitution/slavery ring out of the appropriately named al Qaeda club. What particularly makes Johnny get his gun to point at other targets is the 14-year-old girl (Astrid Roos) promised into a forced marriage that night to the über-creepy brother (Snowpiercer’s Tómas Lemarquisj) of a countess (Juliette Lewis, in an utterly thankless, throwaway part).
Not Chet has been hired to perform at the wedding. Oh, and did I mention the groom is a vampire? As in, a literal vampire – fangs, flickering tongue and all?
And with that, the title becomes more logical than the movie ever does.
McHattie is the strongest element of the show. He’s become the Willem Dafoe of the Great White North: up for anything and all-in, vanity be damned. Here, he bears such an interesting, haggard face that it never matters which character he’s playing – except the awkward scenes in which McHattie plays opposite himself, effectively shaking the viewer awake from the movie experience. For sheer watchability, Rollins is close behind, confident in his ability to shift from menacing to mirthful on the proverbial dime.
Yet the plodding Dreamland does neither man any favors, with McDonald and Burgess slapping on layer after layer of weirdness for the apparent sake of weirdness, weighing the movie down that it can’t pull out of its own sluggishness. Each time it finds itself able to expend a jolt of energy, it abruptly collapses into exhaustion and talks itself out of trying that ever again. For example, in a standout sequence at the halfway point, Johnny is chased through the streets by little boys in matching black suits, looking like the Reservoir Dogs of Romper Room – a minute or two of genuine amusement and immense promise … and immediate abandonment.
By the inevitable climax at the child bride’s nuptials – where Not Chet obliviously croons a narcotic cover of Eurythmics’ “I Saved the World Today” as gunfire is exchanged instead of wedding vows – McDonald long has drained the audience of goodwill. (If he hadn’t, the laughably bad final scene certainly would.)
Although it is reductive to do so, it is impossible to discuss Dreamland without acknowledging the obvious influence of David Lynch. Had the Twin Peaks maestro tackled this material, however, it would make even less sense, yet boast an infinitely higher chance of enthralling.
Rod Lott runs the genre film website FlickAttack.com. A former professional journalist, he has written for Psychotronic Video, Something Weird Video and numerous books.