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the crazies
The Crazies
Reviewer: Joanne Ross
Director: Breck Eisner
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker, Christie Lynn Smith

The zombie genre has received an intensive workout in recent years, but that hasn’t stopped Participation Media from releasing The Crazies, a remake of George Romero’s 1973 film. Director Breck Eisner breaks no new ground in his retelling, nor does he imbue deeper meaning into the proceedings -- unlike Romero who, in his early works, translated the social, cultural, and political tensions of the time into the language of horror films. That the big bad government is involved in a cover up of a biological weapon mishap threatening the public is hardly news in the 2000s. In fact, The Crazies doesn’t present the government’s complicity as a condemnation as much as use it for a plot device. No, Eisner’s version comes across as a routine zombie film, well directed and acted as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough for me.

In the small farming community of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, what promises to be an idyllic spring day turns into a tragic one when the town’s sheriff, David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) is forced to kill local farmer Rory Hamill (Mike Hickman) who wanders in a daze onto the field during a high school baseball game carrying a shot gun. At first Dutton and his deputy Russell Clark (Joe Anderson) suspect Hamill was drunk. But when the toxicology screen comes back negative, the perplexed Dutton realizes he has a bigger mystery on his hands.

Meanwhile, Dutton’s physician wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) treats another local man whose demeanor looks suspiciously like Hamill’s. As the day progresses, most of the townspeople succumb to this strange malady which transforms them, after the initial catatonia-like stage, into mindless, bloodthirsty murderers. Dutton, Judy, and Russell are among the people who appear immune to the disease.

The plot is sketchy at best. Eisner and writers Scott Kosar and Ray Wright fail to flesh out the back story and to answer the obvious questions that arise, leaving the audience in the dark about key details. Moreover, some incidents defy common sense. Still, zombie films are essentially survival films, so missing background information doesn’t necessarily result in a negative effect if survival is the central conflict. However, in this case the trio’s struggle to survive isn’t compelling enough, given the nightmare scenario they find themselves in. Further compounding the problem is Eisner’s mishandling of the time element which neither the characters nor the audience is made aware of until about the last 20 or 30 minutes of the film.

The performances are strong throughout, particularly those of Olyphant, who brings integrity and dignity to his role as a sheriff, and Anderson, who makes Russell a quirky and intriguing character.

Eisner may not bring anything new to the table in The Crazies, but he succeeds in delivering an intelligent and tense horror film. And that’s not an easy feat. Intelligence is often missing in today’s over-the-top horror films.*-JR