Published Feb 25, 2010In 1973, master of horror George A. Romero, best known among genre fans for his of the Dead films, introduced a different kind of mindless zombie. Released during the ten-year gap between Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), The Crazies was a middling piece of Cold War hysteria filmmaking that had a backwoods Pennsylvania community ravaged by the outbreak of a biological weapon that drives anyone who drinks the water into a state of homicidal delirium.
Borrowing only premise and character types from Romero's original — and jettisoning its infamous, and still disturbing, father/daughter rape scene — this do-over moves from the rust belt to rural Iowa, casting Timothy Olyphant as a dogged Sheriff trying to smuggle his wife and unborn child out of a military-enforced quarantine that falls over his small-town after a plane carrying a waterborne toxin crashes in a nearby swamp.
Olyphant, twiggier but no less twitchy than he was in last year's stellar A Perfect Getaway, further asserts himself as Nic Cage's B-movie understudy, from his gravelly "uh-huhs" to his stop-start delivery. Rugged and instantly amicable, Olyphant's edgy performance is the easiest thing to like about The Crazies. Otherwise, this film's blandly generic operations are FUBAR.
The main snafu is that where Romero's version followed two main narrative threads — the efforts of civilians to escape the military lockdown and the efforts of military brass to grapple with the logistics of their eleventh-hour orders — Eisner (whose credits include the 2005 McConaughey/Zahn flop Sahara and a bunch of pretzel commercials) deals only with the rag-tag band of would-be escapees, leaving the military-industrial complex characterized as some broad, trigger-happy monster in a scary gas mask. And while the idea of a U.S. weapon detonating domestically may have panicked audiences during 9/11's more immediate aftermath, the idea's resonance has waned considerably circa 2010.
If we're really desperate to scrape the bottom of Romero's already intellectually shallow barrel, how about recasting 1981's Knightriders in some Tron-styled sci-fi cyberspace? Yeah. Now there's a movie ten people would get really excited about. (Alliance)