Breck Eisner’s “The Crazies” is a remake of the 1973 George Romero movie of the same name, and finds Timothy Olyphant (“Deadwood”, the upcoming “Justified” on FX) once again slipping on the Sheriff’s badge and gunbelt. This time Olyphant is David Dutton, the small-town Sheriff of Ogden Marsh, one of those picture-perfect countrified communities that dot the American heartland. As “The Crazies” open, David is forced into action when a local man with a history of drinking shows up at a local baseball game with a shotgun. David is forced to kill the man, but his ordeal doesn’t end there. Indeed, things are about to get pretty messy in Ogden Marsh, especially when satellites begin watching the town from space and mysterious black SUVs show up, just before soldiers in hazmat suits arrive to round everyone up at the point of machineguns.
Written by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, “The Crazies” doesn’t waste any time getting to its premise. David and his deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) quickly have their hands full when locals start acting strangely and formerly good husbands begin offing their wives and setting their children on fire. For David, it’s doubly distressing, because his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), the town doctor, is also pregnant with their first child. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the source of the problem is the town’s drinking water, and that the big ol mysterious plane that had crashed into the lake outside of town last week must have released some experimental bio-weapon. Thanks, shitty pilot!
During the government containment, Judy is forcefully taken away after tests reveal that she’s infected, while David and others are whisked out of town on buses for their own safety. Or at least, that’s what the Government is telling them. Unwilling to be separated from his wife, David makes his way back to town, and with Russell’s help, locates Judy and her assistant Becca (Danielle Panabaker). But getting back in was the easy part – getting out is going to be bloody murder. Besides gun-toting soldiers looking to shoot first and bother with the questions later, locals that have completely given in to their crazy side roam the area looking for victims. And if that wasn’t already challenging enough for our survivors, members of their party are starting to exhibit signs of infection…
The theme of the day? The Government is incompetent and full of shit, and you should never, ever trust them when they show up at your doorsteps wearing masks and brandishing M16s. Or at least, that’s what one learns from Eisner’s “The Crazies”, a film so unconcern with showing the Authority to be sympathetic or competent in the slightest, that at times the soldiers in their gas masks look like monsters in a horror movie. Of course, we are seeing the story from David and Judy’s perspective, so I suppose our view of the events will be a tad skewed. The script does make an attempt to give some flesh and blood identity to the soldiers in the form of a young soldier who is taken hostage by David, but in the context of all the Government-sanction murdering that goes on in the film, the barn scene feels tacked on and incongruous.
“The Crazies” does a very good job of offering up a nicely paced thriller with enough effective scares to be recommended. The action rarely lets up, and Eisner seems to have grown as a director since 2005’s “Sahara”, a big-budget by-the-numbers action-adventure that most people have forgotten ever existed (which is probably for the best). Eisner uses clever camera placements to set up his scares, and delivers plenty of pay-offs to make us temporarily forget the contrivances used to get there. There are still ridiculous moments sprinkled throughout the film that can’t be avoided, in particular the movie’s many last-second rescues. Just when it seems like one of our characters is about to get gutted or shot by a crazy, someone invariably shows up at the very last second – gasp! Just in the nick of time! — to save them with a nicely timed gunshot.
The acting in “The Crazies” is fine, with Timothy Olyphant fronting the film in his usual calm, cool, and heroic manner. I swear the guy will end up having Clint Eastwood’s career; everytime I see him onscreen, he reminds me of Eastwood’s earlier days. Radha Mitchell spends most of the film being endangered, but she’s cute and isn’t trying another ridiculous accent that she has no chance of pulling off, so kudos to her. At least her character has more of a purpose than Danielle Panabaker’s, who is practically invisible throughout the film. It should be said that I believe the screenwriters probably had a last-second plot twist set up with Mitchell’s Judy character, but for some reason the twist was removed by the time the film hit theaters. Without giving away the last act, you’ll notice that Eisner took quite a bit of time to show Judy doing something in the diner that feels very much like a set-up for the plot twist that never came. Poor test screenings, perhaps? Meanwhile, Joe Anderson as the loyal deputy goes through the film’s most noticeable arc, and is quite entertaining throughout.
The ending of “The Crazies” sets up a sequel that, should one happen, will probably be on a more epic scale given the film’s final minute. Considering that the film has done reasonably well at the box office so far, a sequel seems like a very real possibility. The film has already surpassed its moderate production budget on Stateside ticket sales alone, and once you add in foreign box office, then sales from the lucrative DVD market where a lot of genre films make their bones, Eisner’s “The Crazies” should prove to be a bona fide hit. Call me crazy, but I don’t think “The Crazies 2” should be too far behind.
Breck Eisner (director) / Scott Kosar, Ray Wright (screenplay)
CAST: Timothy Olyphant … David Dutton
Radha Mitchell … Judy Dutton
Joe Anderson … Russell Clank
Danielle Panabaker … Becca Darling
Christie Lynn Smith … Deardra Farnum
Brett Rickaby … Bill Farnum
Preston Bailey … Nicholas
John Aylward … Mayor Hobbs