Dreamscape (1984): 5 out of 10: Not to be confused with Dennis Quaid’s Innerspace (The one with Martin Short), Dreamscape has Dennis Quaid as a psychic mind reading never-do-well kidnaped by a government agency to work in their dream program. A great cast and premise are let down by a poor script and story as well as some underwhelming action beats.
The Good: The cast here is great across the board. Both Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer? Why you are just one, Christopher Lee, away from a trifecta of awesome. Dennis Quaid is at maximum smirk level, Kate Capshaw is surprisingly sexy and you even have George Wendt in a cameo of sorts.
Our sci-fi premise of being able to enter people’s dreams and either change their minds or fix their psychosis is a fun one that has been revisited over the years. (Or even the same year by A Nightmare on Elm Street.)
The Bad: All movie universes have rules. The rules can change throughout the movie as a major plot point (See The Matrix) but overall good stories work within the rule set that they themselves set up. Dreamscape is all over the place.
It is established Dennis Quaid’s character is psychic, which allows him to enter other people’s dreams. Can he also see the future? The movie is unclear. Reading people’s minds would not help him win money at the horse track. Yet the film sets him up as doing just that. (Poker player is a much more obvious choice.) They also have him being chased by track regulars, for I assume winning too often, which makes zero sense if you have any inkling about how betting at a large state-run race track works.
If he can see into the future, why would he make the idiotic choices that he does? C’mon to think of it. If he can read minds why doesn’t he realize who the bad guys are well before the audience. [In all fairness you don’t hire David Patrick (Warriors, come out to plaaaaayay) Kelly to be a good guy].
Can you die in a dream? The entire plot revolves around a planned assassination during a dream but the opening dream sequences show that you are not killed in a dream. The movie changes its own rules halfway through.
The Ugly: What is Christopher Plummer’s endgame in this thing? Here he has a tool to enter people’s minds and change the way they think (Inception) and instead he is thinking all Freddy Kruger complete with claymation snake monster. Even if he succeeded, one can see it would not work out the way he wanted it to.
In Conclusion: A great cast is wasted on tepid sci-fi premise. Special effects are of the time so I can excuse them but the action sequences wouldn’t be out of place in a lighthearted Quincy episode. The charisma of the leads isn’t enough to carry the tepid romance and the excellent chops of the bad guys are helpless against their lame-brained scheme. Passable curiosity piece and time capsule but it never really rises above its own averageness.
Dreamscape (RiffTrax edition): 4 out of 10: Janet Varney and Cole Stratton guest star as riffers and it does not work out well. Dreamscape provides plenty of material for a superb riff. Unfortunately, our guest riffers leave most of it on the table. What they bring to the table is some very low hanging fruit punctuated by lots of silence. There is also seemingly no real connection or banter between the two to the point where one feels they recorded their riffs separately. Honestly, they add nothing to the movie and are a distraction.