I don’t know what it is, but George A. Romero’s films tend to translate into pretty damned good remakes. First, there was “Night of the Living Dead” in 1990. Then there was “Dawn of the Dead” in 2004. Now we have “The Crazies.”
Perhaps it is that Romero possesses an intrinsic sense of what will make a good story, even as his uneven resume proves that he doesn’t always know how to turn that story into a great movie. Because of this, Breck Eisner’s new version of “The Crazies” is the kind of remake I can really get behind.
A remake of the 1973 film of the same title, “The Crazies” tells the gory story of a small town where people turn into mindless zombie-like killing machines that intermittently display malevolent intelligence whenever the plot calls for it. But the townsfolk don’t just have to worry about ghouls. A much larger threat is the government-mandated quarantine of the town.
You see, the water table has been infected with an experimental biological agent. It’s a weapon that the U.S. government is attempting to repress and cover up.
Timothy Olyphant, fresh off a stellar performance in last year’s mediocre “A Perfect Getaway,” plays a town sheriff who appears to have borrowed his fashion sense from the costume designer of “No Country for Old Men.” Radha Mitchell plays his wife, whose primary character trait appears to be finding excuses to get separated from the group.
Together with a deputy who may or may not already be infected with the virus, the couple fights its way through a swarm of murderous Southerners and machine gun-toting men in biohazard suits trying desperately to escape with their lives and their sanity.
There is no denying that “The Crazies” is effective. Eisner, whose last film, “Sahara,” was so bad that the author of the novel on which it was based sued the studio, somewhat redeems himself with this slickly crafted piece of chic nihilism.
Eisner amps up the tension, putting whirring blades in the foreground and oily blackness in the back, he turns the wide open spaces of barns and empty fields into claustrophobic tunnels. Also, he cleverly builds the scare scenes in layers, first giving a sound cue, then an ominous visual followed quickly by a fake-out scare and then a bloody bit.
Unfortunately, while most of the fake-out scares did manage to actually surprise me, the film ultimately grows tiresome because every single set piece has an identical build up. It’s as if Eisner and his production team came up with one really clever gimmick and then decided that this was all they needed to carry a 100-minute running time.
All the same, the film is not without merit. Many of the kills are cleverly staged, and one subplot detailing the misadventures of a couple of redneck hunters who essentially remain identical before and after their infection, is pretty ingenious.
As with Romero’s original, this film is entertaining but deeply flawed. The movie meanders from one money shot to the next with no real elevation. There is not a buildup to a climax so much as a series of cool scenes that could play in pretty much any order. And boy, are these characters dumb. At least if there were teens, you could accept that they were sheltered. These folks are supposed to know how to use guns.