[Screen It]


(2013) (Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos) (PG-13)

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Action/Horror: A retired U.N. specialist is called back into action as he's tasked to find a way to stop a zombie apocalypse that's overrun most of Earth.
Gerry Lane (BRAD PITT) is a former U.N. specialist with a history of dealing with hairy hot spots around the world. But now he's retired and enjoying the home life with his wife, Karen (MIREILLE ENOS), and their two young daughters, Constance (STERLING JERINS) and Rachel (ABIGAIL HARGROVE).

That idyllic world comes to a grinding halt while driving through downtown Philly when zombies suddenly overrun the city. Gerry and his family barely make it to safety in the apartment of a boy, Tomas (FABRIZIO ZACHAREE GUIDO), and his family, where they wait until the morning when Gerry's former boss, Dept. Secretary General of the U.N. Thierry Umutoni (FANA MOKOENA), can send a chopper in to rescue them.

Once onboard a Navy aircraft carrier serving as the U.S. government's command post, Gerry learns that the President is dead, the VP missing, and most of the country along with the rest of the world overrun by zombies. With Thierry giving Gerry the ultimatum of returning to active duty or else be kicked off the ship with his family, the specialist reluctantly heads back into action to look for a way to stop the outbreak.

Traveling from there to South Korea, Jerusalem -- where he's joined by Israeli soldier Segen (DANIELLA KERTESZ) -- and Wales, Gerry does what he can to avoid the zombies, all while searching for a cure to end the pandemic.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In the past decade there have been 12 national releases dealing with zombies, ranging from remakes of the George Romero classics to the "Resident Evil" flicks, comedies such as "Shaun of the Dead" and even the unlikely romantic comedy, "Warm Bodies." Yet, despite that preponderance of titles, not to mention TV series such as "The Walking Dead," the undead and their genre have yet to generate mainstream appeal (the most successful movie, "Zombieland," only made $75 million at the domestic box office).

While nothing's a given in the world of cinematic box office figures, I'm guessing that title will fall with the release of "World War Z," especially since it stars one of the industry's most reliably bankable stars, Brad Pitt. And with a huge budget (reportedly in the $200 million range), blockbuster looks (who can forget the swarming zombie shots featured in the Super Bowl ads) and a name director (Marc Forster who brought us "Quantum of Solace," "Finding Neverland," "Monster's Ball," etc.) orchestrating all of it, what could go wrong?

Well, like certain flicks unfortunately manage to do every few years, this one attracted negative press from the get-go. And that wasn't helped by rumors of tension between Pitt and Forster that reportedly led to the film needing its third act reshot and thus necessitating a release date change from December of last year to what's arguably a more suitable time slot of midsummer 2013.

Whatever the back-story and production history might be, the question at hand is whether it's any good or not. Although it's clearly not novel (being the 13th -- uh oh -- such national release in the past ten years), and doesn't really resemble its source material in shape or tone, it's a decent entry in the pantheon of zombie flicks.

Based on the novel "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" by Max Brooks (son of Mel "Young Frankenstein" Brooks), scribes Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof have pretty much jettisoned the format (favoring the reluctant hero angle vs. the book's collection of individual accounts) and genre (replacing the satire regarding government ineptitude and isolationism with straightforward action mingled with horror), the plot here is fairly straightforward.

With barely an introduction to the normalcy of its characters and their world, the film quickly delves into the zombie outbreak. Due to his training and experience in surviving hot spots around the world, former U.N. specialist Gerry Lane (Pitt) manages to get his family (Mireille Enos as his wife, Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove as their daughters) to safety while waiting for a rescue lift from his former boss (Fana Mokoena).

The latter quickly gives the protag a synopsis of what's occurred and that he must return to active duty. Gerry's reluctant, what with now being a stay-at-home family man, but considering his options, he takes the lesser of two evils and heads out to figure out what's happening and maybe find a cure during his travels.

Along the way, he visits various spots (South Korea, Jerusalem and Wales) and meets various people who we assume will be pivotal players in his quest. Except for one (Danielle Kertesz playing an Israeli soldier who has an unfortunate run-in with a zombie), they're not, as this is one of those journey style tales where characters enter and exit the story in a short span and briefly engage the hero before the next segment begins.

Accordingly, and beyond some brief moments of calling back "home" to check in with the missus, the film feels like a series of action set pieces strung together along the underlying thrust. While some could and likely will find fault with the resultant fractured feel, I found some of those sequences staged with utter aplomb, meaning they elicited more of a visceral response from yours truly than the same in most of the rest of this summer's tent-pole flicks so far.

Yes, we've seen this sort of material before (even the fast-moving zombie angle isn't fresh anymore, although seeing them pile up like raving mad army ants to scale a wall into Jerusalem was a first for me), and the finale clearly borrows its "look out for the zombies in the lab" aspect from the "Resident Evil" flicks. Yet, those scenes still efficiently work for what they're trying to be and do, and Pitt near effortlessly makes his character appealing enough that we actively worry about him and root for his success.

Whether others feel the same way remains to be seen, as does the question about if it will be successful enough to spawn a flock of even more zombie flicks. Either way, while it might not feel original, Forster and company put enough of an effective spin on the material that "World War Z" still comes off as exciting and action-packed. And for that, it rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed June 18, 2013 / Posted June 21, 2013

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