“The Crazies” is something of a quasi-zombie movie that draws natural, but unfair, comparisons to superior films like “Dawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later,” but is a solid thrill ride all its own.
A small Iowa farming community of about 1,200 people is shocked when one of its residents ambles onto the field during the local high school baseball game gripping a shotgun.
The sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) is forced to shoot him, but soon others are starting to stare off into space, develop random nosebleeds, and when hunters stumble upon a dead pilot, but no plane, the sheriff starts wondering what’s going on.
Soon enough the military shows up, blocks off the town, and starts herding residents into fences and trucks, and all hell breaks loose.
The term zombie isn’t really accurate for this film: even moreso than in “28 Days Later,” these people are simply sick to the point of insanity. They become bloodthirsty, but they’re still more or less sentient and self-aware. Many of the infected speak, and a few even hoot and holler as they’re shooting down their victims.
There are some decent scares, and even a couple of wow-that-just-happened moments, and the story overall is effective, but there’s a decided lack of flair for a film that’s so slick looking.
Director Breck Eisner (“Sahara”) meticulously telegraphs virtually every scare (and grossly overuses the “Stay here” device, which may as well be accompanied by an alarm and flashing red lights anyway).
Olyphant plays bugnuts like almost no one else in Hollywood (check him out in last year’s “A Perfect Getaway”), but here plays the straight man. We don’t even get a flash of simmering lunacy.
But he’s a servicable, if vanilla, good guy, and it’s up to his deputy (Joe Anderson) to satisfy the crazy hero quotient, which he does ably. His nonchalance and beneath-the-surface instability really keep the film afloat at certain points in its midsection, when between-act transitions threaten to drag the film down.
But for a remake of a George A. Romero film (Romero is an exec producer), there’s surprisingly little gore. Sure, there’s blood, but not buckets of it, and certainly not what we’re used to in films of this nature.
That signature “the-government-doesn’t-care-about-you” vibe that permeates Romero’s films is certainly present here, but it’s presented almost with a yawn and a shrug of the shoulders. It never seems to surprise any of the characters that this is going on.
The film overall, despite its excellent story, has the feel of a movie directed by someone who has previously only directed action flicks (and indeed Eisner’s only previous credit was the tepid Matthew McConaughey vehicle).
Eisner’s “The Crazies” isn’t quite the Frank Stallone of killer monster virus flicks, but neither is is ready to step into its big brother’s shoes.