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Crazies, The (2010)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"This Trixie's For Kids"
2 stars

When George Romero’s “The Crazies” was released in 1973, the few who actually took note of its release at the time largely dismissed it as an exceptionally blatant attempt to recreate the success of his notorious debut feature “Night of the Living Dead” in the wake of a couple of failed attempts to move outside of the horror genre by making another film in which ordinary people are suddenly transformed into monsters, this time by an accidentally released nerve gas that turned them into violent maniacs instead of flesh-eating zombies. In fact, what Romero was really doing, within the context of a straightforward piece of genre filmmaking, was painting a portrait of a nation being torn apart by events at home and abroad (war, assassinations, social unrest) that made it seem as though the lunatics really had taken over the asylum. In this sense, the horror came not from the monsters popping out from dark corners as much as the gradual realization that utter chaos could arise from the tiniest things imaginable and that all the institutions we had been led to believe would always be there for us--family, friends, religion, government and the military--would instantly crumble and leave us to face the darkness alone. Considering the increasingly chaotic and paranoid times that we live in today, a remake of “The Crazies” would seem to be an ideal vehicle with which to tap into our present-day fears by bringing them to cinematic life. Alas, in making its return to the big screen, “The Crazies” has pretty much been stripped of all traces of the social commentary that once drove it and as a result, it winds up being exactly the film that the original was inaccurately accused of being.

The film takes place in the quiet and isolated farming community of Ogden Marsh, Iowa and opens with one of those bucolic montages of small-town life that exist only to be shattered by instances of gruesome and unimaginable violence. In this case, they come first when the town drunk appears on the field in the middle of a high-school baseball game with a shotgun and is taken down by Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and later when a seemingly ordinary family man deliberately locks his wife and son inside their farmhouse and torches the place. After a bit of investigation, David discovers the remains of a downed Army cargo plane submerged in the river just outside of town and surmises that its contents, which turn out to be a nerve gas meant to “destabilize populations--just not this one”) might have seeped into the local water supply. David wants to shut off the water as a preventative measure but the mayor won’t hear of it--in movies of this type, mayors exist only to dismiss everything that the local sheriff has to say and to claim that they are doing it in the best interest of the townspeople--and before long, more and more people begin to succumb to the madness. Before David and wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) can leave, the entire area is placed under martial law and they are taken to a hastily arranged internment camp where Judy is diagnosed as being a potential carrier and taken away. Inevitably, the attempt at containment fails and in the chaos, David and Judy, along with loyal deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) and adorable teen Becca (Danielle Panabaker), escape and try to make their way to safety in Cedar Rapids while avoiding both the growing ranks of the infected and the military presence that is determined to use whatever means necessary to clean up the mess they caused. (Of course, having an antidote to the gas on hand before sending it out into the open might have saved everyone a lot of trouble but since this is a plot hole consistent with the original, I won’t dwell on it here.)

Essentially, the makers of this version of “The Crazies” have taken a cue from the highly popular remake of Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” from a few years ago and have revamped his original material in a way that retains the basic outline of the original story but which places a heavier emphasis on fast-paced action and over-the-top gore than on the social commentary. In the case of “Dawn of the Dead,” this approach sort of worked because while the new version was nowhere near the masterpiece that the original was, it was a slick and reasonably well-made contemporary horror film that had some nice performances, a couple of effective scares and, in the opening ten minutes, a genuinely bravura set-piece that knocked even the most committed fans of the original for a loop. “The Crazies” tries to follow in the same path (right down to including a Johnny Cash song in its opening sequence) but it just never manages to pull it off. By removing all the commentary, the film is now just another apocalyptic extravaganza in which our heroes attempt to flee to safety while avoiding being bumped off by bloodthirsty pseudo-zombies or military forces who seem to be growing increasingly unstable themselves--in this sense, the film is less a retread of Romero’s original film as it is a knock-off of the Romero-inspired “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later.” Unfortunately, director Breck Eisner (whose previous effort, “Sahara,” inspired more excitement in courtrooms than it did in multiplexes) is no Zack Snyder--there is a sentence I never dreamed I would one day write--and outside of one or two reasonably effective moments (the best being an extended set-piece staged within the confines of a car wash), he just doesn’t seem to have any real idea of how to create a genuine sense of suspense and instead relies heavily on startling audiences by having things jump out at them. He also lacks the desire to unnerve audiences in the way that Romero did by suggesting that the toxin doesn’t so much mess up your mind as much as it causes its victims to release their darkest desires and inhibitions--we hardly get a chance to know anyone in the film other than the two leads and as a result, the sight of everyone around them descending into savagery doesn’t have much of a lasting horrific impact. Towards the end, he gives up entirely on trying to make viewers uncomfortable and transforms the film into a high-octane action epic filled with fight, chases, explosions and a final solution that, on the off chance that it makes enough money to warrant a sequel, proves to not be quite as final as advertised.

To be fair, “The Crazies” is not a complete travesty--the bit in the car wash is really effective, Olyphant and Mitchell deliver performances that are probably a little better than the film deserves and in terms of a remake honoring its source material, it doesn’t sink to the desecrating depths of something like the recent redo of “The Stepfather.” The problem with it is that while it is undeniably a slicker and more polished work than the original film, it never demonstrates a compelling reason for its own existence aside from allowing Romero (who gets an executive producer credit here) to make a few bucks off of the remake rights. Considering the difficulties he has had in getting his own work made in recent years, even the most dedicated purist would be hard-pressed to deny him the right to finally make some money off of his work, although it would have been nicer if the producers had simply given him the money used to make this film and allowed him to come up with something new instead. In an interview, Romero once claimed that one of the reasons that the original “The Crazies” failed at the box-office was that the distributor sold it with an ad campaign that made it look like a typically slick and innocuous action epic and when word got around that it was actually a far darker and corrosive work than initially suggested, audiences stayed away in droves. While that may not be the only reason why the original failed--Romero’s films, especially the non-zombie ones, have always had trouble reaching audiences who want nothing more from their horror films than mindless action and violence--it goes without saying that with this remake, that ad campaign has finally gotten the version of “The Crazies” that it deserves, even if we haven’t.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18394&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/26/10 12:33:53
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User Comments

2/26/13 David Hollingsworth One of the better remakes. It was a huge surprise. 4 stars
1/26/11 Danny Pretty good 4 stars
11/17/10 mr.mike It was "no bad". 4 stars
7/02/10 othree Good try on the 3 main actors, otherwise predictable crap 2 stars
6/15/10 porfle What's not to like? It's a good flick. 4 stars
3/17/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Ultimate Hollywood Hostess twinkie BS. Weenies will think its AWESOME!! 1 stars
3/02/10 Stanley Thai Films like THE CRAZIES give us hope to the slowly dying horror genre. 4 stars
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  26-Feb-2010 (R)
  DVD: 29-Jun-2010

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  DVD: 29-Jun-2010

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