Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"The Crazies" is Insanely Fun

Thanks to everyone's favorite recession, movie studios don't do it up the way they used to. The days of over-the-top theme screenings, filled with goody bags and stars, are as dead as disco. But last night, Overture pulled out all the stops to debut "The Crazies" with one of the best events in recent memory.

Arriving in the light mist of a chilly February night, we were greeted by flashlights shining in our face while machine gun-toting soldiers in fatigues and gas masks barked orders. Ushered onto a school bus with blacked out windows, we were taken on a wild goose chase of a ride, only to be dumped out close to where we began and forced to walk a gauntlet of bloodied patients, twitching dead bodies and more screaming soldiers. Imagine a ride at Disneyland, but with spittle spewing drill sergeants and the threat of death around every corner. It was awesome.

Once inside the theater, an announcement promised us we were all "safe—afe—afe—afe." On the heels of the echoes, commandos burst in shouting "Security Breach!," grabbed one "infected" audience member from his seat, his girlfriend shrieking in panic, as they were both dragged off, legs flailing. The entire theater burst into applause. But the fun was just getting started.
"The Crazies," a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero original, walks a tight line between B-movie fun and jump-in-your-seat thrills, taking the audience on a ride that has you laughing, cheering and hiding, all in one deliriously exhilarating breath.

Director Breck Eisner (son of Michael), redeeming himself from the epic fail of "Sahara," begins with a picture of the easy life in Ogden Marsh, a hayseed of a town where high school baseball games and gossip are the big news. That is, until the town drunk walks onto the baseball field with a shotgun in the middle of a game, forcing Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, turning in another great genre performance on the heels of last year's "The Perfect Getaway") to shoot him dead.

Before you can say "MadCowSwineFluAnthrax," the sleepy town's morgue is stacked with bodies as an unnamed malady spreads. Soon the entire town is rounded up under military quarantine, leaving Dutton, his doctor wife Judy (the always impressive Radha Mitchell), side-kick deputy Russell (a noteworthy and memorable Joe Anderson) and Judy's assistant Becca (in-training It Girl Danielle Panabaker) in a fight for their lives against trigger happy U.S. soldiers and townspeople who have turned into Crazies.

The truth is, this movie could have been just another schlocky genre piece. But thanks to Eisner's ability to turn everything from an unmanned bone saw to a passing helicopter into a weapon of mass destruction, and paired with exceptional performances, anchored by Olyphant's charisma and pathos, it becomes a cathartic journey through terror that, for a glorious 101 minutes, has you forgetting about the real scariness that exists in the world. Even though you may never trust the drive-thru car wash again, what's really insane is just how much fun "The Crazies" is.

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