Sugarcoated Tale

Washington City Paper | October 20, 2005
Dreamer, its subtitle tells us, was also "Inspired by a True Story." Much like Reel Paradise, this DreamWorks production about a little girl and a special horse is slow-moving and treacly, and--unless you actually buy that bit of marketing flimflam--it yields no surprises.

The real career of comeback mare Mariah's Storm wasn't quite as dramatic as that of Sonador (Spanish for "Dreamer"), the thoroughbred who injures her leg during a race in writer-director John Gatins' interpretation of events: The actual horse has had a better run as a breeder than a racer. But please--this is a kids' movie.

In the film, trainer Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) wants to put Sonador to sleep. But because his young daughter, Cale (Dakota Fanning), has come to work with him that day, he decides to buy Sonador from her heartless owner (David Morse) and nurse her back to health on his farm. Cale gets attached to Sonador--her opening voice-over laments that her family's is "the only horse barn in Lexington, Ky., that doesn't have a horse"--and when her novelty pet heals more completely than anyone expected, Cale becomes convinced that Sonador can become a winner again.

Dreamer is Gatins' first go as a director, but his writing credits--Summer Catch, Hard Ball, and the slightly less maligned Coach Carter--should signal more discriminating parents to distract their kids some other way, at least until the DVD comes out. The sugarcoated script, in fact, can be summarized with the following awful dialogue: "You don't care about anyone--horses or people!" "You lied to me!" "She wasn't just some horse, she was our horse!" The most wince-worthy line is delivered by Ben's wife (played by the obviously adrift Elisabeth Shue), with "That little filly is the best thing that ever happened to us!"--though a close runner-up is the ridiculous "Remember dreams, Ben?" Throughout, John Debney's generically inspirational score swirls.

Dreamer is marginally complicated by some cookie-cutter daddy issues involving Ben's distant, fellow-horseman father (Kris Kristofferson) as well as by the Cranes' continual lack of cash, but none of it is terribly realistic. Show me an impoverished, suddenly unemployed animal trainer who turns down $100,000 to avoid hurting his daughter's feelings and I'll show you a man inspired by a true story.

With Russell's Southern accent fading in and out and Shue present only to dispense nonsense, Fanning is, as usual, the best part of the movie. She's even refreshingly allowed to act like a smiley little girl--until the script once again turns her character into the most adult child ever. Sonador's road to recovery teaches wee Cale--and subsequently your children--about the rush not merely of winning but also of betting, which is no small part of Dreamer's finale. If Fanning had known how to read a racing form--I mean, script--before, she might have avoided this loser. CP

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