MOVIE REVIEW- 28 days: Time flies when you're having popcorn

Special to THE HOOK

It took less than 28 days for Fox to start milking the cash cow they had in the sci-fi sleeper 28 Days Later by making fans buy another ticket to see an extra minute or so of footage that made the ending less upbeat.

With that mentality at work, it's amazing that the sequel didn't come out until 47 months later. Even more amazing, 28 Weeks Later is not bad. Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (the overrated Intacto) takes over the reins from Danny Boyle. If he doesn't have a lot of new ideas, he recycles the old ones to good effect.

The "rage virus" of the 28 movies will have a high-tech makeover later this year in The Signal (August) and Cell (October). In the meantime, it's still transmitted the old-fashioned way, by people biting each other or otherwise exchanging body fluids (leaving an AIDS metaphor as a valid interpretation).

The screenplay by Fresnadillo, Rowan Joffe, E. L. Lavigne, and Jesus Olmo ignores a couple of points from the original, in which it was mentioned that the virus had already spread to New York and Paris while here it seems to have been contained in the U.K. Complacency is furthered because, it's said, the virus didn't go airborne or cross from one species to another. Excuse me? Didn't it start in simians in 28 Days Later?

The opening sequence reminds us how exciting the first film was. An ad hoc family of uninfected people is hunkered down in a country cottage, awaiting the next assault. "There are no survivors," one says. "It's just them out there and us in here." When the attack comes, the handheld camera and quick editing make us feel it and think we see a lot more violence than we do, an illusion furthered by beaucoup blood.

Faced with a male version of Sophie's Choice, to try to rescue his wife or just save his own ass, Don (Robert Carlyle) does the latter, leaving Alice (Catherine McCormack) to her probable doom. 

Twenty-eight weeks later, the infected have died of starvation, and U.S.-led NATO troops are supervising the rebuilding and repopulating of London. Don is reunited with his children, Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), 12, and Tammy (Imogen Poots), 17, who had been in a refugee camp in Spain.

Because things are too peaceful for a while– the bored military pass the time looking in people's windows– Don tells the children how their mother died, cueing a few flash cuts to the bloodshed of the opening. Andy and Tammy sneak back to their house in an area that's still under quarantine. There they make a discovery that soon gets the blood flowing again, with Don the new Patient Zero.

Once the virus starts to spread, it spreads quickly and can't be contained in "containment areas." Gen. Stone (Idris Elba) gives his snipers the order to shoot everyone in sight: "We have lost control." Unable to comply, Sgt. Doyle (Jeremy Renner) joins the fleeing masses on the ground. Soon he hooks up with Scarlet (Rose Byrne), the chief medical officer, who believes Andy and Tammy may hold the secret to a vaccine or cure and must be rescued at all costs.

Doyle is in radio contact with his buddy Flynn (Harold Perrineau), a helicopter pilot who discovers how hard it is to land a chopper in a herd of zombies.

Scenes of a deserted London are eerily effective again as 28 Weeks Later, like most sequels, builds on the strengths of its predecessor while trying to establish its own identity. There will be those who think it's already been trumped by Children of Men, but until these apocalyptic fables reach a critical mass like slasher films have, there will always be room for another good one.