The Crazies is a loose remake of a 1973 George Romero flick that most people including yours truly have either forgotten or never heard of. In some cases that kind of ignorance might serve as a hindrance but since The Crazies is a zombie flick and all zombie flicks are essentially the same you can rest assured it won’t bother you here.
B-movie A-listers Timothy Olyphant (A Perfect Getaway Hitman) and Radha Mitchell (Surrogates Silent Hill) star as David and Judy Dutton husband-and-wife residents of the quaint hamlet of Ogden Marsh Iowa home to precisely the kind of close-knit farming community long on assault weapon ownership and short on reliable cell phone access that zombies so famously prefer. The rest of the Crazies cast is filled with faces you vaguely recognize from that movie whose name you can’t recall at the moment. Don’t fret — just about all of them end up dead (or undead).
David is the town sheriff and Judy is the town doctor — a combination which conveniently enough makes them better prepared than anyone to face both a sudden outbreak of the undead flu and the violent anarchy that inevitably follows it. Judy also happens to be pregnant (but not so pregnant as to render her unappealing to male audience members thank God) giving the couple an added incentive to endure the onslaught and not blow each other’s brains out.
First come the zombies infected by bioweapon-tainted tap water followed quickly by members of the U.S. government’s jack-booted heavily-armed clean-up crew. Though their wardrobe and tactics differ both groups exhbit a casual disdain for human life and a seemingly insatiable bloodlust — same menace different uniforms. As government stooges and ravenous zombies compete to determine who will destroy Ogden Marsh first heroes David and Judy scramble to escape the town alive.
Director Breck Eisner son of Michael and the man responsible for 2005's Sahara shows surprising restraint with the gore in The Crazies filling the screen with enough blood to justify the film’s R-rating but not enough to test the gag reflex. He has the good sense to parcel out dialogue and backstory in small bits and pieces keeping the tension high and reducing the groan-worthy moments to a relatively respectable level. There’s nothing particularly original in The Crazies mind you but given the choice between a solidly-crafted retread and an innovative pile of rubbish I'll gladly take the former.
Based on the bestseller by Nicolas Sparks the film begins with Duke (James Garner) and Allie (Gena Rowlands) an inseparable couple living in a nursing home. While Duke remembers their life together Allie who suffers from progressive dementia does not. Their only bond is a faded notebook from which Duke reads to Allie every day telling her the same story over and over. It's a sweeping tale of two South Carolina teens country boy Noah (Ryan Gosling) and city gal Allie (Rachel McAdams) who spend one glorious summer in the early 1940s falling madly in love. Unfortunately the couple is soon separated first by her disapproving parents and then by World War II but after seven years apart after taking different paths they are passionately reunited. There's a catch though; Allie is now faced to choose between the man she once loved and the successful businessman (James Marsden) she is engaged to. It's really no surprise who the young Allie chooses in the end--but for Duke the only thing that keeps him going is the fact that every day somehow through the power of this story the mentally impaired Allie miraculously remembers their love if only for a very brief moment before slipping back into oblivion. Tears being jerked from your eyes yet?
The talented cast certainly elevates The Notebook's romantic drudgery. McAdams takes a departure from all the Mean Girls she's played lately (including The Hot Chick) and easily wins you over as the spirited young Allie while the usually intense Gosling also tackles something lighter so to speak than his previous darker roles such as his Jewish-turned-American Nazi leader in The Believer. While infusing a certain sense of brooding and melancholy into Noah especially in the years he spends pining for Allie Gosling manages to exude Noah's genuine warmth and sensitivity as well. And between the two of them real sparks fly as the actors paint a fresh and inviting picture of young love that stands the test of time. Marsden is completely wasted however as Allie's fiancé Lon a upstanding Southern gentleman Allie's parents expect her to marry who offers little as to why Allie should stay with him. As the older contingency veterans Garner and Rowlands who take the sappiest material and turn it into something meaningful inspire some truly heart-ripping moments as the aging couple holding onto their love as tight as they can. In the supporting cast Joan Allen has some shining moments as Allie's uptight mother with a secret of her own.
In bringing the popular novel about enduring love to life director Nick Cassavetes (Unhook the Stars) may have used his own experiences having seen his parents--the late John Cassavetes and his lady love and muse Gena Rowlands--play out their own real-life love affair. Cassavettes gets to the heart of the material right away and permeates the screen with the beautiful surroundings of South Carolina where The Notebook was filmed. We glide through lush moss-filled swamps and sleepy Southern towns marvel at languid shots of the South Carolina coastline. It's very clear Cassavetes has a way with actors much like his father did gently coaxing realistic performances from his young somewhat untested leads while allowing old guards like Garner and Rowlands to simply work their magic (imagine telling your Oscar-nominated mother how to act. Right). The problem is the story itself which not only offers nothing new to the romance genre but also isn't very compelling. There are no great tragedies (save perhaps for the whole dementia thing) no real villainous presence to keep the lovers apart no peril at all. It's boy-meets-girl boy-loses-girl boy-wins-girl-back--ho-hum. Where's the sudsy soap opera when you need it?
Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) is just the kind of tortured addlepated writer you'd expect to find all alone in a backwoods upstate New York cabin in his ubiquitous ratty moth-eaten robe hair disheveled from the couch pillows on which he's constantly sleeping Jack Daniels bottle lurking conveniently on the coffee table and a blank page in his typewriter. It comes as no surprise that Mort's been unceremoniously dumped by wife Amy (Maria Bello) whom he found cheating on him in a hotel room with unctuous Ted (Timothy Hutton). Not much for Mort to do then besides rattle around his cabin trying (sorta) to stay awake long enough to pound out a few sentences of his latest work of fiction--until that is a black-hatted good ol' Southern boy calling hisself John Shooter (John Turturro) shows up on the doorstep accusing Mort of plagiarizing his short story "Secret Window " several years ago. With only a few days to prove to this Shooter that his story was his own before the guy makes good on his threats to kill everyone Mort knows Mort finds himself with a sticky situation on his hands--literally as pretty soon first his dog then his neighbors start turning up with screwdrivers sticking out of them.
Cast any other actor as Mort and the movie would sink faster than a truckload of bodies in a rock-quarry lake. As it is this is pretty silly horror fluff that barrels headlong into camp territory--but Depp knows it the whole time managing a self-awareness that avoids winking at the audience just enough to pull off some real tongue-in-cheek corkers. As he sinks his teeth into the corny stuff ("This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife " he muses a la the Talking Heads while lurking outside his house now inhabited by Ted and Amy) he proves yet again that he can work miracles with the kind of material he's given. It's entirely to his credit that Secret Window ends up a highly entertaining little horror movie. He's not necessarily to blame however for the pathetic lack of chemistry he has with cuckolding wife Amy. Not only does she dwarf him physically but it's also next to impossible to believe they were ever into each other despite mushy flashbacks that show them lovingly decorating the cabin or cavorting in their big house in the 'burbs. Turturro chews the scenery with gusto Hutton is effectively oily and Charles S. Dutton makes a quick but decent turn as Mort's protective lawyer.
Filmmakers seem to have a hard time successfully translating Stephen King's writing to the big screen and have done so with wildly varying results (read: from Shawshank Redemption to Dreamcatcher). But you have to give credit to writer David Koepp (Spider-Man Panic Room) who took on directing duties here for winding up a pretty tight little B-movie that ends up being entertaining in spite of (or perhaps because of) having more ham in it than an Easter dinner. Plus your guess about the "who" in "whodunit" will no doubt be spot-on. Despite all its homespun hokum despite the fact that the entire first third of the movie seems to be a musing on whether Mort can ever get to sleep in peace and despite the fact that the final third of the movie is about as secret as a glass window the blackhearted true-to-King ending still comes as something of a shocker. Kudos goes to the moody understated score by Philip Glass (The Hours) which ramps up the suspense without overwhelming it.