28 Weeks Later; Georgia Rule

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There's no better fun for movie lovers than a small, unheralded film that turns out to be terrific -- unless it's a small, unheralded sequel that beats the original. That's the case with 28 Weeks Later, which comes four years after 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle's brilliant riff on zombie flicks.

In the first one London was ravaged by the Rage virus, a disease that started in primates and turned healthy human beings into crazed, ravening monsters. (That description may cover other groups, including paparazzi and teenagers grounded for the weekend, but it's the classic definition of zombies.) The new movie opens six months later, when the city is supposedly free of the disease - ha ha -- and Londoners are being repatriated - or re-urbinated -- to a Green Zone in the central city that's been cleared of rotting corpses and tidied up quite nicely.

And everything goes quite nicely until the Rage virus re-emerges, and all hell breaks loose again. This is not, after all, a remake of Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, with Edward G. Robinson finding a cure for syphillis. It's an action thriller focused, classically, on a small group of survivors.

It's also a thrilling display of virtuosity on a modest scale. The director this time is Juan Carlos Fresnadillo -- until now he's been known outside his native Spain mainly for an odd and interesting feature called "Intacto." This will change instantly, though. Fresnadillo is not only ready for prime time, he's now in the midst of it. He works exceptionally well with a superb cast, and tells his story with a spellbinding skill that's enhanced by Enrique Chediak's cinematography.

28 Weeks Later doesn't depend on big moments, but it isn't short of them: the fire-bomb cleansing of Canary Wharf, an inspired helicopter chase, a night-vision venture into the Underground and - brace yourself when this one comes around - a husband and wife making not-so-nice in a hospital isolation chamber.

Certain words should be reserved for special occasions. 'Abysmal' is one of them, and Georgia Rule is as special as occasions get.

Think first of a script that combines the tortured family relationships of Long Day's Journey into Night with a variation on the shattering accusation in The Children's Hour. Then imagine, if you can, the story played mainly for laughs as a smarmy, disjointed sex farce, with Lindsay Lohan as just the sort of out-of-control kid that recent stories and rumors have painted her to be.

At the start, her character, Rachel, is being relocated from San Francisco to small-town Idaho by her desperate, alcoholic mother, Lily, who's played by Felicity Huffman. Lily's plan is for her screwed-up daughter to spend the summer in a kind of single-camper boot camp run by her grandmother, Georgia: She's a strict, God-fearing, tough-loving Idahoan played by Jane Fonda. Fonda's performance is dislikable, but Georgia Rule is a Pantheon of unpleasant performances. No one escapes unscathed except for Georgia's pet canary -- he chirps cheerfully on cue, but he may have been computer-generated.

Georgia Rule was directed by Garry Marshall. It's all about healing, reconciliation and forgiveness, but there's no reconciling the relentless comedy with the darkness of the content. In reality, Rachel and her mother aren't just troubled. They've been poisoned by a river of toxic emotions that flow from Georgia, the bright-eyed family matriarch who makes all the rules. And Rachel herself isn't just screwed up. She's a scary sociopath who tosses off truths that may be lies and lies that may be truths.

Sound like fun? You can't imagine.