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The Crazies

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George A. Romero's "The Crazies" came along in 1973 as the director's third film after the surprise hit "Night of the Living Dead," and is probably his worst movie. The one time I slid it into the DVD player, I found it unwatchable.

That's the kind of flick that's ready for the remake mill, and this new version, directed by Breck Eisner ("Sahara"), proves that sometimes a lucky hack can make a better picture than an uninspired master.

The plot could be scribbled on a note card: Some kind of bioweapon nastiness has gotten in the water of a small town in Iowa and is turning the citizens into crazed killers. One small band of survivors has to defend themselves from their whacked-out friends and the gas-masked military who have come to town to set up an evacuation, i.e. slaughter of the innocents.

Just as the soldiers are featureless behind their protective gas masks, the faces of the crazies are hidden behind masks of bloodied eyes and noses. We see clearly that it is easier for faceless authority to kill its mistakes than it is to explain and apologize, and the faceless crazies can't explain even if they wanted to. This kind of satirical commentary is probably coming from Romero, who is one of the film's executive producers.

The four leads are all fine for the kind of picture this is. Sheriff Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, "A Perfect Getaway") is stalwart and determined to save his wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell, "Surrogates"). Deputy Clank (Joe Anderson, "The Ruins") slides back and forth between comic relief and lifesaver, while Becca (Danielle Panabaker, "Friday the 13th") just wants to find her boyfriend.

There are several good jump moments, but they come early in the movie. Eisner's big problem is that he seems to have no real feel for horror. There isn't an original shot composition or suspense sequence in the picture, and if a device works once "? usually borrowed from John Carpenter"? Eisner repeats it ad nauseam.

How many times can a character cross the room, only to reveal a crazy standing in the background? I didn't count. How many times can a reputedly intelligent character enter a dark room and not turn on the lights? I quit counting at eight.

The biggest forehead-slapper came when Protagonist A stabs a crazy in the throat with a knife that has been jabbed through his hand. Obviously, crazy blood is running across the open wound in his hand and neither the good guy nor his wife "? who is a doctor "? is in the least concerned that the disease might be a bloodborne pathogen.

This kind of inanity aside, the movie is, unlike its progenitor, watchable and even delivers some bush league jolts. It mixes elements from Romero's "Dead" franchise, as well as from most other modern horror series.

Think of it as "Zombieland" without the laughs. If that sounds good to you, by all means, drink the water. "?Doug Bentin

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