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Movie review: Not enough bite to ‘World War Z’

World War Z

Director: Marc Forster

Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Matthew Fox, David Morse

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

Running time: 116 min.

What's your favorite zombie entertainment?
Posted 4:48pm on Thursday, Jun. 20, 2013

There used to be two types of zombies: the slug-slow variety in Night of the Living Dead and The Walking Dead; and the track-star sprinters of 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake.

Now we’ve got a third, even faster category to worry about. In World War Z, the undead are as speedy as Justin Bieber’s Ferrari at a paparazzi convention. And, they can make ladders out of themselves and propel themselves skyward.

That’s just one of the twists on zombie lore that makes WWZ a fun, if not particularly emotionally engaging, thrill ride.

Very loosely based on Max Brooks’ unfilmable bestselling novel, which is a history book of sorts from the future about how the zombie war went down, WWZ is a straightforward narrative of survival amid carnivorous chaos and a hunt to find a cure.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former U.N. security agent turned Philadelphia house-husband to adoring wife Karin (Mireille Enos, The Killing) and their two daughters, Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins). While news of some sort of outbreak flickers on their morning TV screens, everyone’s too busy being adorable in the Lane household to take notice.

Then, while the family’s stuck in traffic, zombies swarm like locusts, hurling themselves through windshields and turning commuters into instant breakfast. It’s in scenes like these when World War Z, directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace), moves with a jittery, heart-racing momentum. In fact, the first 20 minutes are an exercise in the art of creating tension.

But things slow down once the Lanes are rescued by the U.S. government and put aboard a naval vessel. Gerry is assigned to a team that must come up with a solution to what they think is a viral outbreak. As the world’s capitals go dark and civilization teeters on the brink, word comes that Israel is safe, having built massive walls around itself that were completed just before the first attacks. How did they know? Who else knew? And when?

Gerry and a few soldiers fly to Israel, and this sets the stage for the movie’s impressive technological centerpiece: the wall-climbing zombie invasion of Jerusalem.

WWZ also deserves kudos for not following the predictable action-movie pattern of getting bigger and louder as it roars toward its conclusion. In fact, the climax — set within the confines of a lab — is downright intimate, more Andromeda Strain than A Good Day To Die Hard. And there’s a brief but chilling performance from David Morse, who plays a man who was in North Korea at the time of the outbreak. There, he had all his teeth forcibly removed, which was how that country tried to stem the zombie tide — if nobody has teeth, no one can be bitten. (Now that would make a really scary movie.)

Israeli actress Daniella Kertesz is also strong as a soldier trying to keep Gerry safe as things fall apart.

Yet, unlike the best in the zombie genre, the movie doesn’t tap deep into the existential dread of succumbing to mob bloodlust and the fear of the crowd. Maybe it’s because of Pitt’s star wattage (you know nothing really bad is going to happen to him). Maybe it’s because WWZ is PG-13 and viewers don’t see zombies snacking on innards like lunch meat (the average episode of The Walking Dead is more graphic than this).

More likely, it’s because the film, which reportedly had a troubled production, had so many writers (five), that it sometimes feels choppy and disconnected. Matthew Fox, as a soldier, comes and goes before you even realize that he’s there. Somewhere, there’s a cutting-room floor with his missing performance.

Plus, there are nagging questions left unanswered, like why certain parts of the planet — for instance, Wales and Nova Scotia — seem relatively unscathed from the zombie hordes. Do zombies hate cold, clammy weather?

Most likely, it will all become clear in the sequel. Because you know that Hollywood, the biggest zombie of them all, won’t be able to resist the taste of that.

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