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"THE CRAZIES"
(2010) (Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: Residents of a small Iowa town must not only contend with their water being contaminated by a toxin that turns most of them into homicidal maniacs, but also the military attempting to contain them and the spread of the contagion.
PLOT:
Ogden Marsh Township is a small Iowa locale with a population of just 1,260 residents where the law is represented by Sheriff David Dutton (TIMOTHY OLYPHANT) and his deputy, Russell Clank (JOE ANDERSON), while medical services are provided by David's physician wife, Judy (RADHA MITCHELL). It's life pretty much like that in any small town across America, where the worst kept secret is that Judy's teenage assistant, Becca Darling (DANIELLE PANABAKER), is head over heels for Scotty McGregor (JUSTIN MILES), the pitcher for the high school baseball team.

Things change, however, when a seemingly deranged resident enters the baseball outfield during a game wielding a shotgun. David and Russell spring into action, believing the man to be drunk, but the sheriff has no recourse but to shoot him dead when the man tries to do the same to him. Soon, other residents begin behaving in peculiar ways, and David and Russell eventually pinpoint the culprit as some sort of toxin contaminating the water supply from an unreported plane crash.

It's not long before various residents also turn into homicidal maniacs, a development complicated by the arrival of military forces that want to contain them and the outbreak, mainly by not allowing anyone to leave Ogden Marsh and quarantining both the non-infected and infected. When the latter end up escaping, the military pulls out, leaving David, Judy, Russell and a handful of others to fend for themselves and try to make their way to safety.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
While many people like the hustle and bustle of big city living, others prefer the comfy-cozy qualities of small town life. Both have their pluses and minuses, but one can't deny that in many small towns it's likely you're going to know many and sometimes all of your neighbors (and not just those immediately within day-to-day sight). Of course, there are pros and cons to that as well. Yet, while there might be the occasional bad neighbor apple here and there, for the most part such places are close-knit and friendly environs.

That is, unless one lives in Ogden Marsh Township, a small Iowa town of a tad less than 1,300 residents. You know, the sort of place with one sheriff and deputy, one doctor and such. There's nothing inherently wrong with the place that's just like any other small town in America, but I wouldn't drink the water.

And that's because it's now contaminated with a toxin that's turning just about everyone into homicidal maniacs. Oh, there's also that little matter concerning the military being ordered to quarantine and then exterminate the infected, meaning those not yet possessing the desire to set their families on fire or drive pitchforks through their neighbors are in a heap of trouble.

Thus is the premise and setup of "The Crazies," yet another zombie-type horror flick where a small group of people try to avoid being killed by both the bad and "good" guys. It's quite familiar territory what with all of the zombie related pics of recent (granted, the ghouls here aren't of the undead variety, but that's just splitting movie monster hairs). And that doesn't even take into account that it's actually a remake of the 1973 George Romero movie of the same name (that itself was just a variation of that filmmaker's notable directorial splash, "Night of the Living Dead," from five years earlier).

I haven't had the pleasure (or not) of seeing the original, but it appears this is pretty much the same movie, albeit with changes in locale, character professions and such. Working from Scott Kosar and Ray Wright's adaptation of Romero and Paul McCollough's original screenplay, director Breck Eisner goes through the usual zombie genre motions.

After a few instances of the small town folk simply acting oddly (and one having to be gunned down in the middle of a high school baseball game), the masses quickly end up infected, the survivors try to get out of Dodge, and lots of people end up dead, usually in quite gruesome ways.

The military containment angle does nothing for the pic except increase the body count (and significantly mutes the "horror by isolation" element as various satellite views indicate "big brother" is watching), while there isn't enough comic relief and/or black comedy material (or satire about bad neighbors, small town life, etc.) to temper the gore. Granted, "Zombieland" and "Shaun of the Dead" have already mined that territory quite well, leaving this effort with nowhere to go but back to shooting for straight horror and suspense.

If nary a zombie type film had ever preceded this one, it might have come across as more thrilling and/or suspenseful. But we've previously experienced just about every scare Eisner and company can muster, thus significantly muting the effectiveness of each and every one.

That includes the obligatory suspicions inside the survivors' group that one or more of them might also be infected. It certainly doesn't help that we know next to nothing about the characters and thus don't have much reason to care about their plight and/or whether they manage to survive running this particular and quite familiar gauntlet.

Accordingly, Timothy Olyphant as the sheriff, Radha Mitchell as his pregnant (but not visually noticeable) doctor wife and Joe Anderson as the deputy can't do much with their characters. They end up in various precarious situations, but again it's nothing we haven't seen before in countless films (although the most "fun" one is when a runaway rotary saw -- its former crazed wielder now dead -- skitters across the floor toward the law's crotch as he scrambles to scoot his way back from that).

Considering very few people have ever heard of let alone actually seen the original film (compared to "Halloween," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and such), it's a bit peculiar why this one was put in the remake queue, especially since it appears it hasn't significantly benefitted from its contemporary makeover.

Had the filmmakers managed to do something original or interesting with the increasingly tired genre conventions, or at least made the peril and scares engrossing and/or exciting, "The Crazies" might have been worth a sit. As it stands, it's just more of the same old, same old and thus rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed February 23, 2010 / Posted February 26, 2010


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