by Hope Madden
“You don’t want to suck me.”
There are moments in Bruce McDonald’s head trip Dreamland that are just bizarre fun, like that self-aware line delivered by Henry Rollins. A lowlife gangster kingpin, his statement is as much a moment of self-defense as it is a warning.
Rollins’s Hercules is one of many unseemly characters orbiting each other in this surreal, jazzy noir. Veteran character actor and welcome sight Stephen McHattie (Pontypool) plays dual roles: jazzman junkie and conflicted hitman.
One needs to exact retribution on the other, you see, but maybe redemption of sorts could be arranged for both of them?
From one flesh-peddling nightclub to the highfalutin debauchery of a palace, McDonald’s fever dream offers consistently weird moments, each loosely connected to the next, all meandering toward a wild climax. Dreamland is a nutty drug trip of an underbelly film.
McHattie’s fun, especially as the anesthetized trumpet player. The other McHattie is having a tough time learning that you can’t rely on a junkie.
Both Rollins and Juliette Lewis are clearly enjoying themselves—Lewis, in particular, relishing every moment of over-the-top decadence and weirdness. Belgian character actress Stéphane Bissot impresses most as the sole voice of reason in the entire film. She’s deadpan hilarious.
Not that Dreamland is a comedy. Not that it isn’t, either. It’s a tough film to characterize.
McDonald hit his artistic high water mark in 2008 with the inspired lunacy of Pontypool. For Dreamland he teams again with writer Tony Burgess, and together they dive back into themes of sanity, reality and jazz. But Dreamland lacks the fidelity of vision and the internal logic that made Pontypool simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.
Dreamland occasionally feels like a cheat. Worse still, it too often feels predictable when its every breath is meant to be just the opposite.
Still, there’s more than enough carnage and madness packed into this 90 minutes to keep you gawking.