Ghouls just wanna have fun in ‘World War Z’
By BOB TREMBLAY - More Content Now
The zombies in “World War Z” are not your grandfather’s zombies. These are zombies on steroids. They don’t plod, they dash. They don’t chew. They chomp. And the transformation of the infected from human beings into flesh-munching maniacs is fast and grisly. At least the zombies are still butt-ugly.
Much has been written about this movie’s problems, complete with re-shoots, rewrites and reschedules. That usually signals a disaster. That isn’t the case here. While no masterpiece, “Z” scores with a heavy dose of harrowing experiences.
The aforementioned problems stem from the source material. The filmmakers faced the daunting task of turning a multifaceted book by Max Brooks – son of Mel – into a comprehensible movie. Rather than deal with all the issues and circumstances raised in the book, the movie simply eliminates nearly all of them. So, fans of the book, beware. They should know, however, that one of my colleagues who had read the book still enjoyed the film.
“World War Z” opens with former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) spending quality time with his family, wife Karin (Mireille Enos), and their young daughters Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). In the background, the television tells of some bad behavior going on in the world, behavior that goes unheeded by most countries until it is too late. It turns out that a swift-moving virus is turning people into rabid telemarketers. No, they’re becoming zombies.
Gerry and his family get a meet-and-greet with the ghouls on a car ride in Philadelphia. Let the nail-biting set pieces begin as the Lanes barely get out alive.
The movie plays out more like a travelogue of terror than a cohesive narrative, but if you’re into visceral ventures you’ll go along for the thrill ride.
Next stop is Newark, where the Lanes find refuge in an apartment building with a Latino family before being rescued on the building’s roof by a helicopter with the zombies in pursuit. The zombies do a lot of pursuing in this movie.
The Lanes end up on a Navy ship in the Atlantic where Gerry is told to find the source of the virus so a cure can be found and the zombie epidemic stopped before mankind is reduced to a population of undead cannibals. Gerry at first resists – who wouldn’t? – but when he’s told his family leaves the protection of the ship if he declines, he wisely changes his mind. Nothing like a reluctant warrior. As to why a former U.N. investigator is the man for this job, well, how many former U.N. investigators look like Brad Pitt? He’s also one of the film’s producers.
Gerry, a disease expert and a group of Navy SEALs head to South Korea and things don’t go well. Gerry meets a traitorous CIA agent (David Morse), who explains that the North Koreans dealt with the plague by extracting everyone’s teeth. No teeth, no biting, no infection, and, more importantly, no more dentists’ bills. Then it’s time for another narrow escape.
Gerry and company fly off next to Israel, where authorities have kept the zombies at bay by building walls. The country is no stranger to walls. Then things don’t go well again. Cue more munching, killing and another narrow escape with Gerry now accompanied by Segen (Daniella Kertesz), an Israeli soldier with a nasty wound. They end up on an airplane, but you’ll never guess who’s aboard. This set piece may be the film’s most nerve-racking.
Eventually, Gerry and Segen arrive at a World Health Organization lab in Wales where they work with scientists to find a cure. Making this job a tad tricky is that some of lab’s inhabitants aren’t interested in research anymore. They wander around the halls, moaning and groaning and chattering their teeth awaiting their next unhappy meal.
Director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”) takes the bouillabaisse approach to filmmaking here, mixing in one part “Contagion” and one part “28 Days Later” along with parts from other zombie movies. It tries to be smart and gross. Too bad he didn’t add a part of “Shaun of the Dead” as the film could have used some humor to offer some relief from all the tension.
That the cast fares so well is a tribute to their skills, especially Pitt and Enos, who provide a sense of humanity in an inhumane world.
Zombie aficionados might take issue with the film’s PG-13 rating as that limits the amount of blood spurting and intestine ingesting they crave. Don’t worry, “Z” pushes the boundaries of that rating with zombies being manhandled in all manner of unpleasant ways. The 3-D effects are hit and miss.
What’s most annoying about “World War Z,” however, is its lack of conclusion. It’s almost as if the filmmakers said, “That’s enough carnage for today. We can do more in a sequel. Or two. Or three.” Considering how many scenes from the book were left out of the movie, there’s plenty of material from which to work.
• “World War Z” is rated PG-13. Directed by Marc Forster; based on a novel by Max Brooks. Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz and others. Grade: B