The Romero remake gets a review!

The Crazies

The Crazies

Mainstream cinema is rife with remakes and reboots, so it's as surprising as a pitchfork through the torso when one manages to embrace its source material and mold it into something thrilling. Such is Breck Eisner's The Crazies, a serviceable reboot of the 1973 George A. Romero paranoia thriller about a small Midwest town infected with an insanity-inducing biological weapon and besieged by a search-and-destroy military unit.

Taking a cue from Zack Snyder's surprisingly rollicking update of Romero's masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead, Eisner's film begins with a Johnny Cash song before all manner of hell breaks loose, sending pitchforks, bone saws, bullets and other maladies flying through the inhabitants of an Iowa town. Really, Eisner (spawn of Michael) has crafted three films in one: a quasi-zombie infection thriller akin to 28 Days Later…, a paranoid quarantine nightmare and an apocalyptic survivalist flick. As toothy sheriff Timothy Olyphant, his doctor wife Radha Mitchell and smartass deputy Joe Anderson venture between gruesome scenarios, Eisner keeps the tension thick and the bodies falling with satisfying and frightening regularity, all while keeping things humorous and breezy.

Not everything sticks in the update, of course, but it has some big shoes to fill. Romero's original was a lackluster effort, but its plot brilliantly played off Vietnam- and Cold-War-era paranoia, presenting small-town America as an internally combustible animal where friends and neighbors were prone to axe murders and the government could shoot first and ask questions never. It portrayed its crazies not only as deranged murderers, but also as nymphos and docile loonies who simply lost their shit, creating a lucid atmosphere where anything—not just killers—lurked in the shadows. With memories of burning monk Thich Quang Duc and the Kent State murders fresh in the national consciousness, the film's notions of chaos from within were well conceived. But for all its brains, Romero's film had zero budget and a cast offering performances that would make an elementary theater class cringe. As a result, it's as dated as moon boots.

Conversely, Eisner's version has a budget and capable leads, but after briefly flirting with the idea of playing off modern fears and paranoia, it tosses the smarts out the window in favor of elaborate set pieces. The result is highly episodic as the cardboard characters trudge through a landscape populated with ravenous killers with familiar faces. Olyphant's sheriff tells his wife to "wait here," he enters a building, his deputy says not to go into a room, some scary shit pops out of the corner of the screen, something dies. Move on. Repeat with increased splatter effects for 90 minutes.

Which is perfectly fine, and The Crazies delivers jolts throughout, ranging from gotcha scares to true dread. Who needs smarts when you have insanely tense car-wash showdown, or a blitzkrieg assault with a bone saw in a funeral parlor? The film transports its characters into these nightmare scenarios like a well-oiled machine, and despite being overlong and petering out in its final 20 minutes, Eisner has crafter a superbly creepy (if intellectually blank) horror yarn that stands out as a commendable (if disposable) piece of dread. R.

The Crazies opened Friday at Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 IMAX, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.