Zombies bad. Brad Pitt good.
That's all you need to know about the zombie apocalypse movie "World War Z." Except for its massive scale and scope, it is little more than the kind of zombie movies made since George A. Romero brought life to the genre in 1968 with "Night of the Living Dead."
"World War Z" is a large panoramic view at a world. From above, the view almost looks like a swarming army of ants consuming a bread crumb. That's a fun way to spend the summer with the undead.
Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations investigator who traded his globe-trotting ways for a Mr. Mom job. He's called back to work when a zombie pandemic breaks out. His job is to find the source so a solution can be found before mankind is wiped out.
He leaves his family behind to bounce from Korea to Israel to Wales on a trip that's more zombie fighting than solution finding. This is where the movie takes a different path than the original novel by Max Brooks. Instead of being a series of personal accounts, the movies relies on the summer action flick formula of big action scenes.
Director Marc Forster makes the most of the guns-and-guts direction. "World War Z" is at its best when the zombies a faster moving bunch than the typical lumbering variety sweep through the streets. Their breech of the walls of Jerusalem using a mountain made of zombies or the battles on the streets of Philadelphia are so explosive and intense in design that the crush of walking corpses will take your breath away.
The film needs these grand images to distract from a story that is dead on arrival. The investigation is little more than a few observations that lead to a very long sequence of Pitt running through the halls of a research lab. There are only so many moments of tension that can come from things jumping out of the dark corners, and by the time this scene reaches its conclusion, the thrills and chills are gone. And the scene comes as even more of a letdown in action-film terms when it is quickly followed by a capsulated wrap-up of the story.
The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof brushes over story points such as a convoluted explanation of how the Israeli government knew they should build a huge wall around Jerusalem when the first hints of zombies surfaced so badly, the narrative makes little sense. The few attempts to give the story deeper meaning play as afterthoughts.
Even Lane's great zombie tour has slim connections. Lulls in the action expose the film's thin emotional core, including the family angle that never works. There's just never time to get to know the Lanes.
Weak writing only matters if you're looking for the film to be more than a standard zombie summer movie. Just like a zombie, those who see it should just turn off their brains and enjoy the ride. Be sure not to take that ride in 3-D; most of the visual effects are flatter than a zombie's echocardiogram reading.
"World War Z," rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images. Stars Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, David Morse, Daniella Kertesz. Directed by Marc Forster. Running time: 116 minutes. Grade: B-
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.