CAST: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Noah Huntley, Luke Mably, Stuart McQuarrie, Ricci Harnett, Leo Bill, Junior Laniyan, Ray Panthaki, Sanjay Rambaruth, Marvin Campbell

DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle

Locked in, wired up, strapped down, and injected with God only knows what kind of new-age serum, a batch of chimps whine and scream as they are forced to watch endless electronic images of humans maiming and killing one another. Happily, the torture of these guinea chimps in a dark lab somewhere in London is soon to come to an end, thanks to a rescue mission performed by a band of animal-rights activists. Unhappily, the enraged apes are short on gratitude and quickly shred their liberators into bloody slivers.

As this horrifying opening scene fades out, a title appears on screen. It says "28 Days Later" and is followed by the image of a young, naked man awaking in a hospital. There is an IV in his thin, white arm, the intensive care unit is a wreck, and there is nobody else present in what remains of the unit. Indeed, as the bewildered patient soon discovers, there is nobody else present in the entire hospital or, for that matter, in all of London, from Piccadilly Circus to Buckingham Palace.

Well, that’s not quite true. From time to time, the by-now-clothed wanderer, whose name is Jim and whose occupation before the accident that landed him in the hospital was that of a bicycle courier, encounters rabid aggressors—most notably in a stately church gone cuckoo—who keep him on the run. As he soon learns from Selena, a shapely, non-rabid woman and Mark, her hunky traveling companion, these predators have been transformed into weapons of rage by the spread of a chimp-blood virus and must be terminated before they have a chance to terminate you. One drop of their blood on your bod turns you into a maniacal member of the "infected" in less than a minute—which is why, after a sneak attack by the varmints, sweet Selena efficiently hacks her musclebound, bloodsoaked Mark to death in a matter of seconds.

So far, in its hysterical, intensely manipulative way, "28 Days Later" is so good. We’ve been stunned by the bold imagery and the razor-sharp pacing with which director Danny Boyle, the man who made us holler choo-choo with his "Trainspotting," has set Alex Garland’s story in motion, and our nerves have been rattled to the breaking point as we’ve fretted not only for Jim and his newfound friends, but for the whole of humanity (the plague is rumored to have plunged its way through New York and Paris).

But about a third of the way through this neo-noir nightmare, we realize that there is no philosophical point being made, no meaningful message to be drawn from all the morbid razzmatazz. The promising beginning has trickled into a deep, silly well of special effects and plot-holes involving military loonies whose battle plan includes raping frisky Selena and an adolescent orphan Jim has picked up along the way. Saving what he probably considers his biggest shock for the very end, Danny Boyle merely succeeds in making us laugh and say "Is that all there is?"

Could any actor survive this ferocious misfire with his reputation intact? Brendan Gleeson, playing a fruitcake taxi driver who takes Jim for a ride he’ll never forget, does. But acclaimed Irish actor Cillian Murphy, frontal nudity notwithstanding, is a dull disappointment as the reawakened Jim. He should have stood in bed.