Attention future zombie auteurs: There's a lesson to be learned from "World War Z," the most expensive zombie movie ever made: You can spend big bucks to make big-screen zombies faster, more aggressive and more numerous. But a larger budget, bigger stars and higher-grade effects doesn't necessarily make them more interesting. Indeed, in "World War Z" it has the opposite effect. The movie's fundamental problem is that it's boring. It should have been called "World War Zzzzzzs."
The problems start at the very beginning, when we first meet Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former U.N. investigator, and his wife Karin (Mireille Enos), along with a couple of cute kids. Shortly after the film begins, they're sitting in traffic in downtown Philadelphia, when suddenly things start to go very, very wrong — for the movie. It's a zombie outbreak, and it's meant to be a terrifying intrusion on everyday life. But there's no sense of build-up, scale or clear sequence of events. One minute the Lanes are in their car; the next minute they are running and screaming, with zombies knocking over vehicles nearby.
What, exactly, is happening? Who knows? Perhaps the swirl of events was meant to allow the audience to feel as frighteningly confused as the characters. But it's shot and edited in a way that doesn't allow us to share their confusion. Viewers end up watching the Lanes act scared rather than taking part in their fear.
The Lanes manage to find an empty RV and head out of town. How? Again, it's not clear. We see them rev the engine in downtown Philly. Then we see a wide shot of the entire city, where explosions are everywhere and gridlock has blocked all the highways. But next thing you know, the Lanes are making good time on a highway to New Jersey.
Eventually, Gerry dumps his family on a military carrier group and sets off around the world to discover the origin of the virus. That's when the movie really becomes a slog. There are a handful of high-body-count zombie attacks, but limp editing afflicts all of these scenes, and none of them has much bite.
Another problem is the lack of stakes: Mr. Pitt's character, a thoroughly generic protagonist with puppy-dog eyes and Kurt Cobain hair, seems too obviously untouchable, and his family is safely stowed away. The result is that it's just too hard to care about what happens.
The filmmakers seem to have had some trouble deciding what should happen as well. "World War Z" reportedly underwent extensive rewrites and reshoots, including the filming of an entirely new final half-hour. But their late-breaking effort to bring a dead zombie film back to life seems to have produced a sort of cinematic walking dead — lurching, lifeless and badly in need of some brains.
TITLE: "World War Z"
CREDITS: Directed by Marc Forster, screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof
RATING: PG-13 for computer-generated zombie attacks
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS