February 25, 2010

Crazies, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Crazies, The

HORROR/THRILLER:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-02-26

Running Length:

1:41

MPAA Classification:

R (Violence, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker

Director:

Breck Eisner

Screenplay:

Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, based on the screenplay by George A. Romero

Cinematography:

Maxime Alexandre

Music:

Mark Isham

U.S. Distributor:

Overture Films

Subtitles:

none


The Crazies, which is based on the 1973 George A. Romero film of the same name (Romero gets an Executive Producer credit for this one), continues the trend of recent films to delve into apocalyptic scenarios. Granted, in this case, it's just a small town in Iowa that faces Armageddon but, with a situation similar to the one represented in 28 Days Later, it's not hard to imagine the pandemic going global after the end credits roll. In tone, if not in specifics, The Crazies shares similarities with any of the countless "zombie" movies (especially those helmed by Romero) and a little-known, little-seen 2009 B-movie called Carriers (which starred Captain Kirk-to-be Chris Pine). In short, The Crazies is about as derivative as it can be but, despite that, the fast pace and generally sympathetic characters will keep most viewers interested, at least until the final 30 minutes when it begins to wear out its reputation through a combination of repetition and inane plot contrivances.

The movie opens with just another spring day in the small farming community of Ogden Marsh, Iowa. The police station has been closed up so the sheriff, David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), and the deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), can attend the local high school baseball game. Just about the only one not at the game is David's wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell). As the lone doctor in town, she has work to do. She is kind enough to let her assistant, Becca (Danielle Panabaker), off early - her boyfriend is pitching for the home team. Things take an ugly turn when a dazed and uncommunicative man wanders onto the outfield with a shotgun. When he points it in a threatening way at David, the sheriff has no choice but to take him down. This is just the beginning of a disturbing trend: normal, law-abiding citizens seemingly losing their minds and resorting to primal acts of violence. Eventually, the military arrives to quarantine Ogden Marsh but, by then, the epidemic is out-of-control. The group of four survivalists - David, Russell, Judy, and Becca - face danger not only from deranged townspeople but from trigger-happy soldiers, and there's still cause for concern that one or more of them might be infected.

The director, Breck Eisner (son of Michael), shows an aptitude for creating "Boo!" moments. Even though most of them are expected, they provide the desired effect. Eisner also injects the flavor of ominous, oppressive atmosphere that is mandated by entries into the horror/thriller genre. Little of what appears on screen during the course of The Crazies can be considered surprising - it follows a comfortable B-movie trajectory - but much of it is tense and competently crafted. The most original set-piece transpires in a car wash, ends with a literal bang, and allows for the wink-and-a-nod inclusion of a classic horror cliché. After that, however, the movie starts to get stupid. For some reason, the surviving characters split up during the waning moments, making them more vulnerable. Although this vulnerability decreases the likelihood of survival, it also downgrades the viewer's appreciation for their intelligence. Then again, characters acting dumb is a horror staple. Even in Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis threw aside the knife before verifying that Michael wasn't going to get up again.

Timonthy Olyphant, who often plays psychos, is cast against type here as the sanest character of the bunch. He is also surprisingly likeable. There's not an iota of "asshole" in this performance and it goes a long way to getting us on his side early. Radha Mitchell, who has been unceremoniously killed off in more than one of her previous ventures into this genre, tries to survive to the end this time. David and Judy earn our rooting interest. Joe Anderson and Danielle Panabaker are less interesting, primarily because they have less to do. They're the support to Olyphant and Mitchell's leads.

Romero and Wes Craven, two icons of the horror industry, are allowing many of their early works to be plundered for modern remakes. It must be gratifying for these men to achieve the mainstream acknowledgement that has not always been there; both have at one time or another been referred to as "cult figures." The Crazies, like most of these remakes, is a slicker production than the original but some of the grit is gone. The story is much the same but the experience is different. The Crazies is imperfect but it's made with a degree of assurance that will limit fidgeting and keep most horror-lovers involved for a majority of its running length. Those who label themselves as being outside of this core viewership class will likely be less impressed by what The Crazies has to offer.

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