STARRING: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell,
Danielle Panabaker, Joe Anderson, Brett Rickaby, Christie Lynn Smith, Preston
Bailey, Joe Reegan, Justin Welborn
2010, 101 Minutes, Directed by:
Crazies is a sporadically splendid thriller saddled with seriously banal
horror embellishment . . .
It should come as little
surprise to learn the film is a remake, extracted from the thin skin of George
Romero’s 1973 chiller.
The paranoia and general
Vietnam-era dread has been chiseled off the material by director Breck Eisner,
who shapes a more direct shot of scares, gussied up with overtly slick
filmmaking that spends more time on technical challenges than it does lacing
together a consistently nail-biting motion picture.
Something is happening to the
residents of a rural Iowa town that perplexes Sheriff Dave Dutton (Timothy
Olyphant, Live Free or Die Hard). A mysterious illness is turning the
locals into bloodthirsty, zombie-like killers, with the wave of infection
creeping throughout the area, striking indiscriminately.
While Dutton and Deputy Clank
(Joe Anderson, Across the Universe) stop to figure out their next move, a
swarm of U.S. soldiers swoop in to seal off the town, killing off the infected
and sending the rest into quarantine. Realizing their situation is grim, Dutton
rescues wife Judy (Radha Mitchell, Surrogates)
from medical detainment and takes off with Clank, hoping to break out of town
and find a safe haven free of the deadly plague.
Romero’s The Crazies isn’t exactly moving a mountain. A tinny thriller
with porno-like production values, the original hasn’t stood the test of time,
remaining more of an earned stretch mark for the director than a creative
Eisner scraps Romero’s spare
determination for a wildly visual film, which imagines the infected as stalking,
zoned-out demons with an irresistible urge to exterminate anything in their
path. Feeling more Dawn of the Dead than helplessly infirmed, the titular
creatures are impressively made-up in increasingly horrifying ways, but they sum
up the major problem Crazies faces as it continues down a path of doom:
it prefers horror over suspense.
"Successfully modernizing Romero’s The Crazies isn’t
exactly moving a mountain!"
The crackerjack opening act of
the picture sets a forbidding tone, as Dutton slowly processes the gravity of
the infection, investigating the source of the nightmare as soldiers in
intimidating NBC suits flood the town, coldly killing and burning terrified
Eisner, who hasn’t been seen on
the big screen since 2005’s Sahara, mines the story potential smartly,
creating a few marvelous moments of menace that play up the tension of the
outbreak, not just money shots of gushing wounds. Watching the town crumble into
madness is exactly where The Crazies inhales most interestingly, capturing the
intensity and futility of the moment with welcome screen precision. But let’s
face the reality: Eisner is itching to scare the pants off viewers.
Once Crazies switches
over to ghoulish business, the concentration of the picture wanes.
Eisner starts poking around for
grandiose gore zone set-pieces (including an inane clash inside a working car
wash), expelling more energy on cheap jump scares and hackneyed visual touches
than sustaining the unsettling devastation.
The scares mostly originate
from the horror playbook and have a nasty way of underlining the apathetic
performances, which, to be fair, emerge from lackluster actors (Olyphant barely
has a pulse here) burdened with atrocious lines. Crazies is better off
silent, but Eisner likes to keep the talent chatty, killing suspense by having
his cast verbally reinforce the obvious bewilderment.
Surprisingly, The Crazies
remains a bleak event until the bitter end, where our heroes face a chilling
military finality. The picture deserves credit for maintaining a tone of
despair, even if the excessive showiness of the direction foolishly slices the
delicious doomsday mood in half.