World War Z ✮✮
Zombies Are the Zaniest People
by Glenn Lovell
Silly isn’t a word one usually associates with the Zombie Holocaust. But that’s the adjective that leaps to mind when I’m asked about Brad Pitt’s long-delayed apocalyptic horror show “World War Z,” which finally drag-shuffled its way into theaters Friday.
How silly is it? To borrow from one of the film’s action set pieces, it’s as silly as a one-handed soldier armed with a baseball bat — a baseball bat that’s readily available at a lab in Cardiff, Wales, of all places.
Predicated on the specious theory that fright increases exponentially when you multiple the threat by a thousand, this adaptation of Max Brooks’ cult novel throws a gazillion CG zombies at the screen. This throng is often photographed from high above, giving it the appearance of industrious ants or swarming locusts. Give me a close-up of one drooling, flesh-dripping corpse in “The Walking Dead” any day. That’s far more terrifying.
Pitt, who also produced, plays a former military operative named Gerry Lane who’s pressed back into service when the zombie plague hits the Eastern seaboard. What’s left of the U.S. chain of command ‒ the president is dead, v-p missing ‒ has been ferried to an aircraft carrier 20 miles off the coast of New York. For reasons never made clear, the U.N. Deputy Secretary General (Fana Mokoena), who now appears to be running things, believes Lane is the only man to save the planet. So our hero leaves wife (Mireille Enos of AMC’s “The Killing”) and family on the carrier and goes in search of Patient Zero, i.e. the key to the pandemic.
Lane’s globe-hopping takes him from South Korea, where the z-word was first uttered, to Israel to a World Health Organization lab in Wales.
En route, he interviews a rogue CIA agent (a toothless David Morse), runs for dear life, lops off the hand of an Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertesz), runs for dear life, lobs a grenade into the coach section of an airliner, causing it to crash (duh) … runs for dear life, and then single-handedly discovers a cure for a virus that, in 12 seconds, turns healthy humans into howling, teeth-gnashing banshees.
No cure, alas, is found for Lane’s stupidity. During a covert nighttime mission, his cell phone rings, thereby alerting the sound-sensitive undead and causing much unnecessary mayhem.
“I tried to call you,” his wife says later.
“It was a bad time,” replies Lane, cousin to the embarrassed theater patron who forgot to switch his phone to vibrate.
Much has been written about this movie’s behind-the-scenes production woes, so it comes as little surprise that the narrative stutter-steps to life, introducing characters and relationships that are never explained or explored. The wonderful Enos is completely wasted in her first big-deal movie outing; Morse’s addled turncoat appears to have been left on the editing room floor. Much is made of Lane saving an Hispanic kid in Newark but then the kid is sidelined along with Lane’s family. In other words, director Marc Forster has sacrificed the trees (human factor) for the forest (a scenario that screams “Epic in scale!”). The story opens with familiar news alerts of a planet in rebellion. But then this global warming angle is likewise ignored.
Lane is so impervious to danger ‒ he maneuvers through gridlock traffic in a commandeered RV and crawls from the mangled fuselage of a downed plane ‒ Pitt might as well be playing the Man of Steel. His is an old-fashioned star turn: He survives because his name is above the title. Come to think of it, someone should be investigating Lane. He’s an albatross. Whenever he shows up at a new location, the situation suddenly goes south. As an Israeli leader crows about holding the zombie hordes at bay by building a wall around the city, the battlement is breached. Seems nobody thought to guard the wall.
The wimpy, PG-13 rating is a tip-off that this is going to be a relatively tame outing. Instead of glorying in the gore a la George A. Romero’s groundbreaking zombie movies or even AMC’s “Walking Dead,” Forster is forever flinching and turning away, the equivalent to being afraid of your own shadow.
Given this weekend’s box office, we can expect a “World War Z: Mankind Strikes Back.” The hook is already in place. Lane in closing voiceover: “Be prepared for anything. Our war has just begun … ”
Rumor has it that the even zanier sequel will be directed by Max Brooks’ father, Mel.
WORLD WAR Z ✮✮ With Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoena, David Morse. Directed by Marc Forster; scripted by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Godard, Damon Lindelof from the novel by Max Brooks. 116 min. PG-13 (for violence, profanity, gruesome makeup effects)