MOVIE REVIEW: ‘World War Z’ lacks chomp

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First Posted: 6/24/2013

I’m having a hard time coming up with much to say about “World War Z,” and with good reason. The much-hyped extravaganza starring Brad Pitt and countless zombified extras just sort of sits there, as director Marc Forster presents zombies and chaos like George Romero never existed.

Adapted from Max Brooks’ best-selling novel, “World War Z” features Pitt as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations solider who is happily living a quiet, suburban life with his wife (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters. But, as the saying goes, tell God your plans and he will unleash a legion of speedy zombies around the world.

Gerry’s old boss at the UN (Fana Mokoena) asks him to return to work, promising protection for his family, which is now on the run following an attack during a trip to Philadelphia. Gerry can’t stay with his brood for too long; he’s tasked with escorting a doctor into South Korea to determine the cause of the zombie outbreak. The plan unravels, leaving our hero to travel the world looking for clues.

That’s a good story except Forster, who has helmed everything from “Quantum of Solace” to “The Kite Runner,” directs with no pop. The zombies spring up like Whac-A-Moles, but Gerry isn’t given a deadline to beat or a conflict to overcome, which would have given the plot much-needed urgency. And the character is treated as an escort, which puts Pitt in a hopeless situation. He is forced to bring dimension and nuance to a flimsy character, a hard request for an actor who, though likable, isn’t a compelling performer.

Four credited writers (including J.J. Abrams’ right-hand man, Damon Lindelof) are so concerned with getting us from point A to point Z that they skimp on the details. We get snippets of social commentary in the opening credits before the zombies start their rush. Forget about a look at a family under duress: Gerry’s wife pretty much exists to make ill-timed phone calls and fret.

“World War Z,” functional and straightforward, even fails from a “Man, those zombies are chomping people up!” perspective. The movie is too damned polite, even though the zombies look scary, with their scaly skin and glassy eyes. They come in swarms or in quick bursts, but it’s not enough to get a good jolt. It’s like we’re shielded from their rage. (Note: I didn’t see the movie in 3D, but I can’t imagine that superficial wrinkle making much of a difference, unless the glasses somehow improve story structure.)

We’re at the point where the appeal of zombies just being there isn’t enough. One reason why I enjoyed “Warm Bodies” is that it poked fun at the whole zombie apocalypse. I’m not saying “World War Z” should be a barrel of laughs or a satire on modern times. But it should not be a nondescript trip down the blockbuster checklist. (Box office star in the lead role? Check. Pop culture phenomenon properly presented? Check. Cashing in on a 3D opportunity? Check.) That’s not too much to ask.

-To read more of Pete’s cinematic musings, please visit or follow him on Twitter, @PeteCroatto.