Movie review: Here we go again -- man bites man

For the News-DemocratJune 20, 2013 

What It's About

A global pandemic creates chaos, destroying entire cities as swarms of humans are infected in "World War Z." Yet another retread of a zombie apocalypse scenario, this sci-fi action thriller starts out promisingly with a terrifying first half-hour, then degenerates into a video game.

Brad Pitt, in scruffy mode, plays a former United Nations operative as the lone hero, reluctant to leave his family but desperately needed to save the world. After escaping the mean streets of Philadelphia, where ordinary people become zombies in 12 seconds once bitten, and fleeing from Newark, he secures shelter for his wife (Mirielle Enos) and two adorable young daughters. Then he globetrots to South Korea, Israel and Wales.

His attempts to find Patient Zero and a cure lead him to a research facility, where zombies lurk around every sterile well-lit corridor. The final showdown is more "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" than massive battle, but it sets up the inevitable sequel and potential trilogy.

Performances

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is the only character who is fully developed. Established as a loving husband and father, he was tired of working in danger zones and quit to be an at-home dad. He's smart, wily and pulls off ingenious MacGuyver moves in the nick of time. This character is totally in his wheelhouse, so it's not much of a challenge.

The supporting players -- only a few recognizable -- are given short shrift. David Morse ("St. Elsewhere") briefly plays an intriguing rogue CIA agent, while tough-guy James Badge Dale ("Iron Man 3") fills another tough-military-guy role. Matthew Fox ("Lost") barely registers as a soldier. If you blink, you miss him. However, Daniella Kertesz is impressive as an Israeli soldier who helps Gerry's mission.

What Works

That uneasy feeling post-9/11 resurfaces as the opening scene's outbreak is real enough to be panic-inducing. (Nevertheless, "28 Days Later" and "Contagion" are better virus plague movies). How quickly people become savages ramps up the anxiety. The fear factor is a big reason these stories draw us in, but alas, they didn't give us enough to care about here, unlike "The Walking Dead."

Robert Richardson's photography is visually stunning, and the film moves along swiftly.

What Doesn't Work

The movie's production problems were recently detailed in a Vanity Fair piece, and the film's release was delayed from last Christmas to now. Director Marc Forster ("Quantum of Solace") has created some implausible scenes -- particularly an airplane explosion -- but the number of screenwriting revisions did nothing to instill confidence. They brought in Damon Lindelof from "Lost" and "Star Trek" to come up with a different ending, and while scaling that down worked, too much time is spent on a grand scale that fails to connect with us.

Hordes of zombies seeking fresh hosts once they are infected are just a bunch of computer-generated graphics that look nifty in 3-D for a couple of seconds, then just flat-line.

The film is far too gross for its PG-13 rating.

Apparently, the source material -- Max Brooks' 2006 book -- was extensively pared. Fans of the book who found it compelling, will likely be disappointed here. Instead of numerous perspectives, we get the lone wolf, the one-man-against-all-odds scenario.

By now, aren't we over-saturated with zombie entertainment?

Stars: 2 1/2 stars out of 4

Director: Marc Forster

Starring: Brad Pitt, Marielle Enos, James Badge Dale, David Morse

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

Length: 1:56

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