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updated: 6/19/2013 1:59 PM

Tense zombie thriller abandons horror for blurry, PG-13-rated action

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  • Retired U.N. investigator Gerry Lane (producer Brad Pitt) tries to protect his family from Zombie-geddon in the action thriller

      Retired U.N. investigator Gerry Lane (producer Brad Pitt) tries to protect his family from Zombie-geddon in the action thriller

  • U.N. investigator Gerry Lane (producer Brad Pitt) has an ax to grind with zombies at a research facility in the action thriller "World War Z."

      U.N. investigator Gerry Lane (producer Brad Pitt) has an ax to grind with zombies at a research facility in the action thriller "World War Z."

  • U.N. investigator Gerry Lane (producer Brad Pitt) comforts a wounded Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertész) on an ill-fated plane trip in the action thriller "World War Z."

      U.N. investigator Gerry Lane (producer Brad Pitt) comforts a wounded Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertész) on an ill-fated plane trip in the action thriller "World War Z."

  • Video: "World War Z" trailer

 
 

In the $200 million Brad Pitt-produced "World War Z," director Marc Forster mashes up "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with the greatly accelerated zombies from Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" remake.

The result: a nearly bloodless, PG-13-rated globe-trotting thriller that tosses out most of the horror elements from the zombie genre and bumps up the chase components with blurry, strobe-edited, can't-tell-what's-going-on fight sequences.

This film leaps from one action set-piece to the next with nimble alacrity and will undoubtedly please genre fans not bothered by the absence of developed characters and cultural/political subtexts of the George Romero variety.

Zombie purists, beware.

Despite its quick pace and ratcheted-up tension, "World War Z" seldom matches the raw drama of AMC's "Walking Dead" premiere episode or Snyder's jaw-dropping "Dawn of the Dead" intro that whisks us from normalcy to Armageddon in eight scant minutes.

Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a retired U.N. investigator.

We never find out what U.N. skills he developed that make him the Derek Flint choice to help save the world when Zombie-geddon breaks out, prompting U.N. Secretary Thierry Umotoni (Fana Mokoena) to call him back to duty.

Forster, who directed the anemic 007 adventure "Quantum of Solace," nicely handles the opening segment in which Gerry, wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and two kids (Abigail Hargrove and Sterling Jerins) confront the beginning of the terror while stuck in a Philadelphia traffic jam,

Cops on motorcycles race past the stationary autos. An explosion goes off down the block. We know something bad has happened, and it's coming this way, but we don't know what it could be.

Not until the zombies sweep through the streets as if hyped up on too much Red Bull, biting and attacking people, followed by a 12-second gestation period before the victims turn into new attackers with really bad cataracts.

Umotoni arranges for a helicopter to pick up Gerry and his family from a rooftop and transport them to a command center aboard the USS Argus in the Atlantic Ocean.

There, Umotoni forces Gerry -- under threat of returning his family to the City of Brotherly Love -- to go on a mission to where the zombies first occurred: South Korea.

(In the original story from Max Brooks' book, this occurs in China. Apparently, the producers didn't want to offend a market with kazillions of potential ticket buyers, so they offended one of our Allies instead.)

From South Korea, Gerry hops over to Jerusalem, whose leaders cannily anticipated the zombie-pocalyse and constructed high walls to keep the marauders out.

This becomes the movie's cinematic piece de resistance. a spectacular assault sequence in which teaming throngs of zombies swarm the barricades like suicide bees until the structures go the way of the walls of Jericho.

Gerry barely escapes on a plane, now accompanied by a wounded Israeli soldier named Segen (Daniella Kertész). They bounce around the globe, winding up in Wales at a secret research facility overrun by 80 staffers, now zombies lurking around trying to find the last few living humans in the complex.

As Gerry, Pitt provides the requisite star power as the hero, but this one comes off as a less fun version of Indiana Jones, racing through a breathless series of strung-together action set pieces while trying to find a lifesaving treasure, a cure.

Not boring for sure. Still, "World War Z" crashes with a pat, dissatisfying, sequel-setting ending. ("It's not the end!" Gerry's voice-over narration tells us. "We must be prepared for anything!") This movie also marks the least-effective use of the 3-D format so far this year.

But the worst part of "World War Z" has to be its trailers, which should have been electrifying and mysterious. Instead, they reveal the spectacular action money shots that should have been preserved as surprises.

On the Rotten Tomatoes website, a whopping 99 percent of respondents report they want to see this movie. So, apparently, gutting the best sequences for the trailers paid off.

At least for Paramount Pictures.

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