Brad Pitt saves the world in World War Z but can’t save the movie

by Mark Burger

The current zombie-mania reaches what is being touted as its zenith with World War Z (*½), a big-budget, star-driven (melo)dramatization of the undead apocalypse directed by Marc Forster and based on Max Brooks’ best-seller.

The star in charge is producer Brad Pitt, cast as United Nations trouble-shooter Gerry Lane, who races across the globe in a desperate effort to save humanity — including his own family — from being infected by a sudden, worldwide zombie outbreak. Wherever Gerry goes, and he logs plenty of frequent-flier miles here, the dead aren’t far behind.

By keeping the movie on the move, Forster is able to gain some narrative traction — although at the expense of much emotional investment — but it’s not long before the film becomes a tiresome exercise in repetition. Individual scenes are striking and effective but there’s nothing new here, and it’s painfully evident where cuts were made to secure a more audience-friendly PG-13 rating. (Movies about marauding zombies rated PG-13 already have two strikes against them, because they can get only so gory.)

Even the tried-and-true zombie allegory that “they are us” has little bearing in the story. The only narrative focus is essentially when and how Pitt saves the world.

Among the other actors on hand are James Badge Dale, David Morse, Matthew Fox, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoeno and Ludi Boeken, but most exit quickly. The scruffy, affably heroic Pitt remains front and center throughout, which ought to please his fans and likely won’t hurt the film’s box-office. But it’s a cardboard character, a stalwart good guy — something that requires more physical than emotional exertion on Pitt’s part.

All that’s required of Mireille Enos, playing Gerry’s wife, is to look worried throughout. Once he deposits her to safety early on, she’s inconsequential to the story — although she does provide an inopportune cellphone call in one of the film’s better (and scariest) moments.

Much has been made about the film’s expensive and extensive production, including well-publicized rewrites and reshoots. The seams tend not to show, except in the aforementioned scenes where gore has been eliminated, but the end result is simplistic. Everything’s been cleaned up and disposed of, including any innovative ideas. World War Z feels routine, even old-hat. The dead have become mainstream.

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