You have to say this about "Dreamcatcher." It's not just crazy, it's really crazy.

It's a Stephen King movie on a cocktail of steroids and amphetamines, a blast of delicious insanity that recognizes no borders, no laws of physics, no hopes of redemption. Baby, it just goes and goes and goes.

Hmmmm. Let's see.

It's an old-friends-from-childhood movie, like "Stand by Me."

But it's also a crazy-general movie, like "Dr. Strangelove," and that means of course it must offer a corollary to the crazy general, in the form of an opposing force, so that means it's also a heroic-colonel movie.

But it's a monster movie, too, where a big, toothy, slithery wet tube of goo eats people.

Oh, wait, I forgot this: It's a fungus-among-us movie!

Oh, then it's an "Alien" movie, only the creature comes out a little south of the chest.

Briefly, it's a helicopter attack movie.

Not briefly enough, it's a isn't-it-funny-what-goes-on-in-the-bathroom movie with a specialization in the noises methane production entails.

Then it's a round-up-the-townies-and-put-'em-in-the-stockade movie, like "Besieged."

By the way, it's also an ironic-alien-with-a-British-accent movie.

Well, it would take a genius to keep this all straight, and the director, Lawrence Kasdan, who once made the densely plotted classic "Body --

Oh, I just remembered another one: It's a retarded-kid-is-really-benevolent-visitor movie.

-- Heat," is no genius, but he is a sublimely efficient professional filmmaker, so he keeps it all whizzing along. True, it is ridiculous, unbelievable, gratuitously puerile, and gory, but it is also, equally true, never boring.

The idea -- too deep a word, I agree -- behind "Dreamcatcher" is something like this, once it gets itself all sorted out. In childhood, four wonderful friends rescue a "special kid" from the torments of the quarterback and the starting backfield. He rewards them with his love and, eventually, a gift: They can communicate telepathically, and read other's minds. All grow up to be handsome, clever chaps, but the gift is more of a burden, as each of them essentially drifts into a more or less ineffectual lifestyle, and all of them hang around the same small town in rural Maine.

Many years later, a giant monster comes to Earth to eat us all, starting helpfully with Maine, and the telepathic quartet are exactly suited to help defeat it, although the crazy general (Morgan Freeman) and the heroic colonel (Tom Sizemore) and all those stockaded fungus-infected townies keep getting in the way.

Let's say right now that one of the primary pleasures of the film is acting. Besides Freeman, who can make craziness seem as dignified as winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the four heroes are played by Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis and Timothy Olyphant, and all are attractive, empathetic performers, though only a few are left standing by movie's end. If you care about the movie at all, it's because you care about each of them.

Of the many movies it is, I think I liked the monster one best. This creature, when he's not hiding in Damian Lewis and talking in that British accent (which is actually Lewis's native accent), takes the form of a variably-sized slug with a vertical smile made more dazzling by eight or 10 rows of teeth. This bad boy -- fast, violent, powerful -- is really scary. He plays on primordial fears of slippery, organlike things that gobble us alive. He's a tumor with a meat shredder attached, and we're the meat.

The second best movie -- a sequence actually -- is essentially disconnected entirely from the plot. It features the adventures of Team Blueboy, a commando squad that uses helicopter gunships to go against Team Alien. So there's a fabulous action sequence (all computer-generated, to be sure, but convincing nevertheless) when Apache gunships sweep across the snowy Maine landscape and deliver a blow for the human race in the form of Maverick missiles and blizzards of 20mm Gatling gun lead upon a toadstool ship and its cargo of slithery beasties. You grown-ups will have left by this time, but I speak for all us acned, never-made-varsity adolescent males when I say: Way cool.

On the other hand, I could have done without all the poop humor. And of course King's view of childhood, while deeply sentimentalized, is disguised behind an ostentatious patina of "reality," which means that when the four are young, they talk dirtier than bosun's mates at South Pole weather station Zebra for their 50th consecutive month.

All in all -- well, there is no all in all. There are just parts. Some fit, some don't. Some are cool, some aren't. It's the craziest thing you ever saw.

Dreamcatcher (136 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for extreme violence (large worms biting people in half) and lots of disgusting glop (people stomping on small worms which explode into goop with a plop).

Thomas Jane and Donnie Wahlberg in a Stephen King movie that pulls out all the glops.