Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Danielle Panabaker, Joe Anderson DIRECTED BY
Breck Eisner SCREENPLAY
Ray Wright, Scott Kosar (based upon George Romero's 1973 film) MPAA RATING
Rated R RUNNING TIME
101 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
If it wasn't for having the last name of Eisner (aka son of former Disney head Michael Eisner), The Crazies director Breck Eisner would likely be toiling away on ultra indie cinema after the box-office debacle known as Sahara.
After the big budget Sahara tanked, despite having both Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz in its cast, it's not surprising at all that Eisner would be relegated to this Overture Pictures remake of George Romero's 1973 horror classic of the same name. While this updated version is in most tangible ways superior to Romero's original, it's a remarkably disappointing effort that only briefly threatens to surpass the Romero's film in terms of genuine scares, thrills and chills.
The Crazies kicks off rather creepily in a small, remarkably average Iowa town where we gather at a local baseball diamond to watch a high school baseball game. Sheriff Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, A Perfect Getaway) is present along with most of the town with the exception of his wife, the town doctor (Radha Mitchell). Suddenly, the tranquility is shattered when a local drunk crashes the game with a shotgun he won't put down.
It doesn't end well.
In the meantime, the Sheriff's wife is treating a man in a seemingly altered state who, upon his return home, flies into a homicidal mania.
Again, it doesn't end well.
Much like Romero's 1973 original, The Crazies is essentially an "us vs. them" film with the "them" being our own government. The story involves a plane crash, toxic chemicals, the water supply, a crazed military and four people, including the aforementioned sheriff and his wife plus the deputy sheriff (Joe Anderson) and the doc's teenage assistant (Danielle Panabaker), fighting to survive it all while the maniacal military and townies turned zombies surround them at every corner.
The Crazies is interesting in that it's difficult to figure out exactly who Eisner had as a target audience. In its initial stages, The Crazies is more intelligent than your average zombie/horror/slasher flick, a fact likely disappointing to most gorehounds. On the other hand, the film wasn't screened for critics prior to its release so it's difficult to imagine that Eisner was going for critical praise here.
The Crazies devotees, perhaps? It's difficult to imagine that Romero's original, fairly widely acknowledged as one of his lesser films, has too many people over 35 years later who even remember it.
Part of the initial thrill of this update of The Crazies is that Eisner and co-screenwriters Ray Wright and Scott Kosar have created surprisingly grounded, intelligent characters who just so happen to find themselves in a most unusual situation. Their intelligence and emotional resonance allows the audience to be drawn into their stories, a rather delightful and unexpected surprise for this type of film. The bonding is even more satisfying given the convincing coupling of the two leads, Timothy Olyphant (in a rare good guy role) and Radha Mitchell. Both Olyphant and Mitchell dish out pleasing performances here, convincing even when the script itself starts to let them down in the film's second half.
Therein lies the biggest problem with The Crazies. After a promising start, the film quickly dissolves into a run-of-the-mill horror flick with less gore, only occasional scares and startlingly ineffective "zombies" that more resemble the drugged out students in an Uwe Boll film.
What starts out intelligently quickly becomes bland and predictable, enhanced only by Eisner's ability to create semi-eerie settings and moments of jumpiness. A zombie car wash, the film's most interesting and unique idea, is played out in a mostly unsatisfying way. In fact, it seems like much of The Crazies is crying out to be darkly comical but Eisner either doesn't want to or is incapable of blending in the film's inherently comical undertones into the external events as they occur.
Tech credits are a mixed bag, with Maxime Alexandre's cinematography standing out for the way it paints the town rather ominously. Billy Fox's editing feels a bit excessive, while Mark Isham's original score lends credibility to the idea that The Crazies has this underlying dark humor just dying to come out but Eisner simply won't let it.
By no means a disaster on the scale of Sahara, The Crazies may serve as a reminder why it has been five years since Eisner has been in the director's chair. In a town where there's always someone waiting for their own big break, even the Eisner name will only get you so far.