February 26, 2010 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'The Crazies' -- GRADE: C

Review: 'The Crazies' fails to stay

Zombie silliness and government conspiracy claptrap sink "The Crazies." (Overture Films)

A small-town high school baseball game is interrupted when a blank-faced gunman leisurely strolls onto center field early on in "The Crazies."

It's a jarring, unsettling visual, but the queasy feeling it creates eventually dissipates as "The Crazies" gets bogged down in government conspiracies, bioterrorism panic and pseudo-zombie claptrap.

Too bad, because "The Crazies" looked like it was going to be more than the latest entry in the early-year horror movie sweepstakes. A take on George Romero's 1973 thriller of the same name, it comes from Participant Media, the socially progressive releasing team behind "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Good Night, and Good Luck."

"The Crazies" centers on an Iowa town where residents, one by one, are becoming homicidal loonies. It doesn't take long before the town sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) discovers the wreckage from a mysterious plane crash, and finds out government shenanigans are at play.

Soon the whole town is being rounded up and killed off as the shadowy Powers That Be are looking to get rid of any evidence that their little mistake -- and consequently, the town -- ever existed.

Director Breck Eisner ("Sahara") creates an eerie mood early but can't sustain it, and doesn't make us care about the characters once they're pared down to a few survivors. Furthermore, he relies too heavily on "gotcha" instances for scares and surprises, and scenes staged in a car wash and an oil change pit are too silly and too cramped, respectively, to be effective.

If there's a message in all this, it's buried in blood splatter. Which is fine, but makes "The Crazies" more disappointing than if it had less lofty goals.

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