Movie review: Story loses battle to frenzied action in 'World War Z'

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At roughly its midway point, "World War Z" sends hordes of zombies clambering over a wall into a city and then chasing its citizens like the bulls at Pamplona.

But the movie is more effective when it shrinks the scope and concentrates on three characters terrified that the creak of a door or crunch of glass underfoot will attract the "dormant" zombies lurking nearby.

After all, George A. Romero taught us you don't need platoons of extras, $100 million to $200 million, or even color film stock to make a classic about the undead. In a way, he spoiled us for every movie about zombies that followed in the next 45 years and that includes "World War Z."

'World War Z'

2.5 stars = Average
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos.

  • Rating:

    PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images.

It stars Brad Pitt as a former United Nations investigator who is forced back into the field to keep his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters safe in the aftermath of worldwide death, destruction, chaos and apparent zombie attacks.

That's the word that was used in an email from Korea, which is the first overseas destination for his character, Gerry Lane, as his Philadelphia family shelters in place on an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean.

Gerry finds himself gruesomely globe-trotting in an effort to figure out where the pandemic originated and, far more urgently, how to stop the spread of the virus and the armies of zombies it's creating.

They are not the sorts of flesh-eaters who lumbered around the cemetery and farmhouse in Evans City. These are lightning fast and modeled after a pack of rabid dogs who swarm or launch themselves at people or, sometimes, car windows or the rungs of a helicopter.

Once infected, eyes cloud over, backs arch and bodies contort, and the undead ooze a thick black goo rather than crimson blood. They can sound like squealing pigs or make their teeth chatter like some sort of hideous Hannibal Lecter.

"World War Z" is powered by Mr. Pitt, compelling as a family man who reluctantly flies into the fray. Although there are supporting characters, notably his fretful wife, his former boss (South African actor Fana Mokoena) and an Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertesz), this is pretty much Brad's show.

Reports about clashes, delays and other troubles on the set might lead you to think the movie is a mess. It's not at all, although the 3-D is unnecessary and sometimes made the picture murky, which might have been the result of less than perfect projection at a preview.

Beyond that, the film has scenes with zombies zipping by so fast that you can barely register what's happening. It goes to the trouble of casting David Morse but then consigns him to a cameo, sends Gerry and a youthful brainiac off in a virtually empty plane to save the world, and allows a key device to improbably survive a catastrophic accident without a scratch.

No one gets more than a sentence of background, and attempts at using the pandemic as a prism to examine different cultures starts strong (panic buying in Newark, N.J., for instance) but loses steam.

Marc Forster, whose diverse credits include "Machine Gun Preacher," "Quantum of Solace," "Finding Neverland" and "Monster's Ball," directs a screenplay credited to four writers, five if you count Max Brooks. He wrote the source novel, "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War."

"Movement is life," Gerry counsels a sympathetic stranger but "World War Z" has too much frenzied action and too few measured moments to plot the art and science of war against the living dead.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published June 21, 2013 4:00 AM


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