Thursday, March 11, 2010

570 - The Crazies review


At the beginning of “The Crazies,” a Johnny Cash cover of Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” plays over a view of a scenic Iowa town. I seriously doubt a single one of the teenagers who populated the screening I was at got the reference, but those in the know would recognize the song as the one that played at the conclusion of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 masterpiece “Dr.Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” The old Brit tune played out as a colossal blunder on the military’s behalf results in the destruction of all life on earth, one of those moments where a real auteur appropriates innocuous pop culture to chilling effect.

And so it’s right that the song plays at the beginning of “The Crazies,” a film about a military mishap that ultimately annihilates life on earth. It takes place in Odgen Marsh, which from the sound of most of the locals should belong in Arkansas, but actually rests right here in Iowa. After a military plane crash, people, to appropriate a famous phrase from “Dr. Strangelove,” go a little funny in the head. Nothing serious; they just transform into purple-faced psychopaths with an insatiable thirst for murder, courtesy of a pathogen designed to destabilize enemy populations.

But what a strange sort of psychopath they become. They’re so wacked out that they’ll fire a gun simply to make it weigh less, but also patiently stage elaborate ambushes for the uninfected. If they’re so crazy, what’s to stop them from butchering one another? Solidarity with one’s fellow nutcases, I suppose.

The military arrives in Odgen Marsh with a containment plan, which means to kill the population, blow up the town, and pretend it never happened. Fair enough, but won’t anybody notice an entire town missing? Even with a population of 1000+, what if someone from that area has a cousin or close friend who lives in another state? I guess that’s the sort of problem for the people at the top to worry about.

The hero is the town sheriff, played here by Timothy Olyphant, who usually looks more comfortable as a criminal type, but never mind. His wife is Radha Mitchell, playing the town doctor, a professional with the killer good looks of a Fox News lawyer, with a vocation that seems plot appropriate but actually has nothing to do with anything. The pair and some stragglers head for safety, assuming they’re not turning into crazies themselves, avoiding murderous soldiers and kooky neighbors along the way. You could probably write this: do you think they’ll make it out safely, or will there be lots of bloodletting and close calls along the way? Check out the trailer if you don’t know the answer.

Ah, I’ve got more trivia for you. That song at the start of the movie? It also reminded me of the 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” which was scary as hell and light years ahead of this, but also began with a Johnny Cash song. But they’re both remakes of films by George A. Romero, who pioneered the use of subject material that we’re now so used to. When he did it, zombie survival horror pictures were fresh. Now, we can count on our horror film staples, such as bad guys who get shot just before they land a killing blow, noble lawmen and their gorgeous wives, and heroes that split up and wander around on their own even though danger lurks behind every corner. Have at it, if you feel so inclined.

2 out of 5

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