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The new horror film “The Crazies” follows in the same vein as its predecessors, “28 Weeks Later,” “Return of the Living Dead,” and the like, and relies heavily on the presence of a covert military force rounding up suspected, infected townsfolk (the crazies), thereby ignoring, for large gaps at a time, the primary reason people plopped down their $9 – to see the crazies.
However, director Breck Eisner, who helmed the awful, awful Matthew McConaughey vehicle “Sahara,” really sets up the scares well in this often intense, government-conspiracy yarn about a stealth military plane that crashes in a rural Iowa bog, tainting the drinking water with a top secret virus that turns all the usually reserved locals into homicidal machines.
At the center of the bloody rampage is a husband-and-wife couple. The woman is played by Aussie Radha Mitchell, whose best work is in Woody Allen films (“Melinda and Melinda”) and horror films (“Rogue,” “Silent Hill”), and Timothy Oliphant, whose comfort zone lies in playing angry cops well (HBO’s brilliant “Deadwood,” the upcoming TV series “Justified”). He earns his paycheck here by taking the role of – you guessed it – the town’s sheriff.
A teenage girl (Danielle Panabaker of the “Friday the 13th” remake) and an increasingly unstable deputy (Joe Anderso, in a scene-stealing performance) round out the ragged foursome who run, hide and maim their way to the outskirts of town in the mode of the XBOX 360 video game “Left 4 Dead.”
Unfortunately for horror-genre enthusiasts, too much of the heroes’ time is spent dodging mostly faceless military personnel. That said, Mr. Eisner successfully scares us by prolonging a few harrowing scenes – townies overrunning a military-run quarantine facility, a madman languidly dragging a pitchfork toward strapped-down patients, a baby’s room ambush and the film’s opening scene: a baseball game on a lazy weekend afternoon that ends up being anything but.
While the score is nothing to write home about (see “28 Weeks Later” for an excellent example of a pulsing, palm-sweating tone-setter), the country-themed soundtrack featuring “We’ll Meet Again” by Johnny Cash and “Bring Me Sunshine” by Willie Nelson help nail the setting of a quiet, farming community that has no idea of the carnage awaiting in its own backyard.
These are minor gripes; if you are a fan of the genre, by all means check out the critically well-received bloodbath “The Crazies.”
Rated R for bloody violence and language. The film runs 101 minutes.
My rating is “popcorn”: See this movie in the theater.