05/02/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Crazies Relies on Horror's Nuts and Bolts

If you're going to attempt to strike terror in someone, you might as well go straight for the heartland.

The Crazies relies on good old-fashioned horror tactics -- and a bit of B-movie plot magic -- to pull off one of the most probable, but wholly implausible storylines ever. Loosely adapted from George A. Romero's 1973 box office flop of the same name, the movie combines a strong anti-government sentiment, a bit of the supernatural undead, and a whole mess of gore to try and scare you into believing that maybe the people of the Midwest aren't as sweet and caring as you think they are.

Sheriff David Dutton's (Timothy Olyphant, Live Free Die Hard) realizes something is amiss in his close-knit, rural Iowa community of Ogden Marsh when the neighborhood ex-drunk shows up brandishing a shotgun at the baseball game. As Dutton and his deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson, Across the Universe) uncover the military conspiracy behind all the madness, the town rapidly spirals downward as farmers become pitchfork-wielding backstabbers and restaurant workers decide to store more than cow in their refrigerators. There's also the callously-portrayed infantry to avoid, who unfortunately slaughter both affected and unaffected alike while hiding behind their gas masks and machine guns. To make matters worse Dutton's wife and the doctor, Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell, Surrogates), is pregnant and is dragging along her office assistant Becca Darling (Danielle Panabaker, Friday the 13th) for the journey out of small town hell as they battle tanks and townspeople and terrible to get out.

The film gleefully exploits every stereotype of rural America to make you cringe in your seat, turning the infinite cornfields into spaces for reckless disregard. It's surprising that although these scenes have all appeared in past movies, director Breck Eisner (Sahara) still manages to make you jump without having to rely on stock torture scenes. At the very least, Eisner will make you want to put off getting your vehicle detailed for a couple of days lest you be reminded of Ogden Marsh's car wash/tomb of the undead. And, you can't help but fall for the mustachioed renegade Deputy Russell, who Anderson turns into a spitfire, middle of America cowboy.

Herein also lies the fatal flaw of the movie. It does count too much on overtly sappy and trite clichés at some key moments that make you mad, causing more wincing than waterworks. The movie is predictable even if you haven't seen its predecessor. At this time when the caliber of recent zombie movies have shown that we can still expect something new out of one of the oldest genre's in the film textbooks, The Crazies brings nothing new or innovative; instead, it tries a bit of everything and throws it all into one film.

That isn't to be said that The Crazies isn't terrifyingly entertaining. After all, once a movie's got local townsfolk hunting meat that is never in season, you know the film is going to be deliriously fun.

3 out of 5