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REVIEW: Zombie thrills keep “World War Z” alive

Over the past few years, Americans have developed a morbid fascination with zombies. The unseemly creatures are constantly found in TV shows, video games, and movies, most recently director Marc Forster’s “World War Z,” an adaptation of Max Brooks’ best-selling novel that has enough zombie action to satisfy moviegoers, but also has enough flaws to keep it from reaching its potential. 

The corpse-filled adventure begins with a look at the very much alive Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a happily married father of two, who is trying to forget his mysterious, militant past working with the United Nations. His picture-perfect life quickly falls apart when a swarm of the undead attacks his hometown and turns fleeing humans into mindless zombies. Using superior combat skills, Gerry saves his family and gets them to safety, but now must rejoin the UN to find a solution to the mysterious epidemic.

Of course, that means facing off against zombies who are infecting the rest of the world. Forster strays from their traditional slow movements and gives them the speed of average humans and an insatiable hunger for human flesh. While disconcerting at first, these traits dramatically intensify chase sequences and make for cool action shots (particularly one of zombies climbing over each other like ants to scale a wall). The actors portraying the zombies and their make-up artists should be given special credit for making these corpses look as terrifying and real as possible.

The zombies also bring scares and suspense that could have made the movie a moderately successful horror film in its own right. Instead, Forster focuses heavily on Gerry’s family, which personalizes the story but also feels overdone and ultimately makes the film unsure about the genre with which it wants to identify.

The pacing doesn’t help its cause either. From the chaotic opening sequence, the film is action-packed almost to a fault. It leaves little time for finding a resolution to the zombie problem since everyone is focused on being eaten and transformed into a living corpse. Unfortunately, the only place the film really slows down is at the climax. The stakes are high with the future of the human race on the line, but the action is minimal and drags the plot unnecessarily. Gerry’s ultimate solution – an actually viable one that should be remembered if zombies endanger all mankind – is made on pure speculation and a bit of a logical stretch. Even the montage of Gerry’s memories before his “Ah-ha!” moment doesn’t help.

Throughout this confusion, however, Pitt turns in a solid performance that keeps the audience engaged. His Gerry is collected and focused while everyone else falls victim to the chaos and despair around them. An Academy Award nomination is unlikely, but Pitt certainly stands out in an otherwise average cast.

News of several rewrites, crew members leaving during production, and an overwhelming budget have labeled “World War Z” as a likely box office failure. Its divergence from Brooks’ original story, which recounts the zombie war using survivors’ memories, has also irritated fans. While a plot that more closely followed the novel could have made for a deeper, more fully-realized film, Forster’s adaptation is an action-packed if muddled vision of a zombie apocalypse that may well satisfy fans of the genre’s hunger.

 
*** out of five

 

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