Two movies have recently opened that deal with marriages in crises, though the approach couldn’t be more different.
The Crazies is a remake of the cult favorite by the same name originally made by legendary filmmaker George Romeo who seems to have a thing for ending the world. How closely this remake follows the original I can’t say since, sad to also say, I haven’t seen the original. But this is an effective, nail biting, edge of your seat horror movie with a sharp script by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright (from Romero’s original) and solidly directed by Breck Eisner who has taken the wise choice of letting the movie work on its own terms rather than going over the top with a show-offy style some directors would use to let the audience know just how brilliant they are. Timothy Olyphant plays a sheriff of a small, quiet, boring town who needs him as much as Mayberry needed Andy Griffith. Radha Mitchell plays his newly pregnant wife. For reasons unknown, one day, out of existential nowhere, people in the town start losing focus and fading out (like turning down the volume on the TV) and then coming back with a vengeance, slaughtering anybody and anyone they come into contact with. It spreads like a virus, which makes sense, since the cause is a biological weapon created by the government which was being taken on a plane to be destroyed; except, inconveniently for everyone involved, the plane crashes (don’t you hate when that happens). There’s one exceptionally creepy scene where Olyphant walks main street and it is eerily quiet, too quiet, even for this dusty town whose “you are now entering” and “you are no leaving” signs are back to back. The government soon arrives and starts quarantining everyone, with people who have a high temperature being segregated from those without, and the writer and director do some interesting things here in using the Holocaust as a metaphor for this round up. Mitchell has a temperature (because she’s pregnant, not because she has a virus), so she is separated from Olyphant. And the plot then becomes Olyphant and his deputy rescuing his wife and another woman and trying to get to safety. Of course, it makes no sense for Olyphant to rescue his wife since he doesn’t know what is going on and could actually be making things worse, but what can you do? If he doesn’t, you don’t have a movie. It also has some issues in that the symptoms of the virus seem to vary at times depending on the needs of the authors. But all in all, this is one of those solid entertainments that thrills, chills and fills the time quite entertainingly.
Date Night also posits a married couple in danger, though this time the couple aren’t newlyweds (they have two kids that won’t let them have sex). It’s basically the same idea as Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery in which a couple’s marriage has turned uninteresting and boring until they become involved in some dirty dealings and find their lives in danger. It’s true that Date Night doesn’t come up to Manhattan Murder Mystery’s level (Allen’s characters are a bit more interesting and the way the story unfolds is a bit more clever), but at the same time I feel that Date Night has gotten a bad rap from the reviewers. It’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread, true, but it’s also a perfectly entertaining piece of fluff and one could probably do worse with very little effort. The main charm of the movie comes from Steve Carell and Tina Fey who have great chemistry together and really feel, as my friend said who accompanied me, as if they are a true married couple. They have the ability to barely move the corners of their mouths and say millions, and the twinkle in their eyes don’t hurt. Their characters have reached a crisis point in their marriage: it’s become boring and even worse, they’re too tired to have sex. They each desperately want their marriage to work, but don’t know what to do about it and are too scared to bring the subject up for fear that would only make things worse. So they go on a date into the big bad city of Manhattan and pretend to be someone else in order to get a table at a restaurant (apparently a worse crime than killing someone these days—it’s a nice little reoccurring gag). But the people they are pretending to be turn out to be involved in a blackmail scheme involving Mafiaso Ray Liotta (no surprise there) and corrupt DA William Fichtner. In the end, the couple kind of decides that maybe it’s best to be boring, banal and settled. The movie never rises above what it is, puffy entertainment, with a script (by Josh Klausner) and direction (by Shawn Levy) that gets the job done, but little more. But it’s certainly as good as Hot Tub Time Machine with the added advantage of being funny without being afraid of strong women or homosexuality: Carrell is manly and secure enough in his sexuality to admit that Marc Wahlberg’s pecs even turn him on.