Tale of a town gone mad is marred by too much gore

Posted: February 26, 2010

The population of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, just dropped from 1,260 to 1,259 - when Sheriff Dave (Timothy Olyphant), given no choice, shoots and kills the town drunk as he walks across the high school baseball field in the middle of a game, a rifle in his hands.

And so begins The Crazies, a timely remake of George Romero's 1973 B-movie about a community gone mad, burning and murdering and acting all zombielike in the wake of a secret government-perpetrated biological accident.

See, Rory didn't have a drop of alcohol in his blood when he staggered across the outfield. And soon enough, other folks start picking up knives and power saws, torching cars and strangling loved ones, their eyes glazed over like doughnuts.

Bloody doughnuts.

A timely, and grisly, genre piece that captures the anxieties of our time (collapsing social order? - check; wariness of Big Government? - right), The Crazies is, at first, entertainingly creepy and intense.

But as the sheriff and his beautiful, pregnant town-doctor wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), try to (1) figure out what's going on, and (2) save themselves from contamination and death, director Breck Eisner (Sahara) cranks up the gore to levels that are overpowering and unpalatable. I think it was the guy with the pitchfork, making rounds through a sick bay where Ogden Marshers were strapped helplessly to gurneys - a stab here, an emphatic disembowelment there - that did me in. Not fun.

Olyphant has a cool, amiable vibe, kind of postmodern Jimmy Stewart, while Mitchell brings intelligence and quietude to yet another role that doesn't deserve such consideration. (What's up with her career?) British actor Joe Anderson (Across the Universe) plays Dave's deputy with a Midwestern drawl and a rangy humor that serves the movie well, for a while. But then all the predictable silliness - and impalements and dismemberments - take over. And it's amazing that Sheriff Dave can work the stick shift of a tractor-trailer with a hand that's been run through by a kitchen knife - but hey, maybe it's just the extra adrenaline that comes from being pursued by pop-eyed cretins with automatic weapons.

Look for the fatalistic punch line at the end: a satellite shot of another Iowa town, and some computer text that tells you what's in store for the citizens down the road. Hey, it's crazy out there.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.

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