‘World War Z’ plays it safe to a fault

By Frank Ruggiero (frank@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Jul. 3, 2013 | Modified: Jul. 3, 2013
‘World War Z’ plays it safe to a fault

From left, Brad Pitt, Pierfrancesco Favino and Daniella Kertesz star in ‘World War Z.’

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Brad Pitt feels fine.

Leading the cast in “World War Z,” he’s the glue that keeps together a string of action sequences that offer some suspense but little more.

Whereas a good horror movie scares its audience by suggesting what happens off screen, a PG-13 summer blockbuster often has no choice but to try.

“World War Z,” the latest entry in the ever-popular zombie genre, doesn’t feel it needs to. Carefully crafted and marketed to appeal to the widest possible audience, this doomsday actioner plays it safe to a fault.

That’s not to say it’s a bad film, when it is, in fact, a fairly fun time at the movies. But for a movie based on a best-selling novel acclaimed for its fresh and thoughtful take on the whole zombie thing, audiences deserve something they can sink their teeth into.

Pitt (“Fight Club”) is Gerry Lane, a retired United Nations crisis specialist called into action for the agency’s biggest crisis yet — the zombie apocalypse. He and his family, including wife Karin (Mireille Enos, TV’s “The Killing”) and two children, manage to escape the carnage for the relative safety of the UN’s Atlantic fleet.

But unless Gerry volunteers his services, they’ll be relocated to a considerably less safe location. Left with little choice, he agrees to track the ghastly pandemic to its source and embarks on a globetrotting adventure to find a cure.

While most countries have “gone dark,” Gerry gathers clues in those that haven’t (entirely, at least), hoping to build a theory from everything he’s experienced thus far. But with time rapidly ticking and his family in jeopardy, he’ll have to work fast.

Fortunately, that’s what “World War Z” does best. Director Marc Forster (“Quantum of Solace”) doesn’t mince words, literally cutting to the chase from the get-go. This pretty much sets the high-speed tone, along with zombies of the “28 Days Later”-esque sprinting variety.

While these zombies are — as the brilliant “Shaun of the Dead” put it — rather bitey, they’re not exactly bloody, with Forster and company using excessive quick cuts, distance shots and computer-generated imagery to avoid anything the least bit graphic for the box office’s sake. Put simply, these zombies seem neutered.

And “World War Z” suffers for it. The shambling masses, with their groaning, teeth clicking and animal-like movement, seem more at home in “Jurassic Park” than the zombie apocalypse. While we know they’re a threat and that the concept is terrifying by its very nature, the creatures often come across more comical than scary.

And while the scares are few, “World War Z” does deliver some decent thrills and action. Scope is arguably the film’s strong suit, with its sweeping, pandemonium-filled crowd shots and depiction of a worldwide crisis creating a sense of foreboding. But Forster and company seem to have trouble when the action gets up close and personal, which, for the most part, is where it counts.

This is, of course, with the exception of the film’s most creative action sequence — zombies on a plane. Although I found myself wishing for a Samuel L. Jackson cameo, this is the kind of stuff that makes zombie movies fun, namely a fresh scenario that hasn’t been beaten into the ground.

But it’s a case of too little, too late. In playing it safe with tried and true tropes, “World War Z” essentially bites itself in the foot, working its way to a less than satisfying conclusion that only manages to set the stage for an inevitable sequel.

As Pitt’s character notes, this is only the beginning.

“World War Z,” rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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