Thursday, June 20, 2013

World War Z

WORLD WAR Z: Brad Pitt, Marielle Enos, directed by Marc Forster (116 min.)

It’s never a good sign when a film is mired in all sorts of production chaos rumors, from bloated budgets to on-set feuds to re-shoots and edits and delays and just collectively bad vibes. There is, more often than not, fire beneath that smoke. But if there were a film that could overcome such nasty rumors, I would have placed my bets on World War Z. After all, it stars Brad Pitt, is produced by his own company, Plan B, and has some thrilling advertisements. Pitt hits more often than he misses, and my faith was in his corner. I know this all sounds like a set up to say World War Z is terrible, but I’m not saying that exactly. It isn’t terrible. It just isn’t very good. Remember when you r mother would tell you “I’m not mad, just disappointed?” It feels a little like that.

Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a retired U.N. investigator who made his career traveling the globe and sticking his nose into some dangerous spots. Now Gerry is quite comfortable at home with his placid wife, Karin (Mirelle Enos), and two daughters. But one morning when they are stuck in Philadelphia traffic, chaos breaks out in the streets. A runaway garbage truck plows down the street and chews up cars and people as it appears bystanders are being attacked and infected by something turning them into furious, twitching zombies. One bite and the virus spreads and, before long, the streets are being taken over by the infected. Gerry and his family escape in an RV and get in touch with his former employer at the U.N. who rushes him away from the spreading death and destruction onto an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic. City to city along the coast the virus spreads until the population becomes overrun and cities and governments collapse worldwide. These opening scenes of chaos are quite thrilling, moving at a brisk pace, but once we get out of Philadelphia the balloon begins to sink to the ground.

On the aircraft carrier, Gerry is so well respected by his former peers they threaten to ship him and his family back to smoldering Philly if Gerry doesn’t agree to escort a Harvard scientist to South Korea to try to uncover “Patient Zero.” Naturally Gerry agrees without much anger or resentment or, really, without much emotion whatsoever. When the lead predictably fizzles out in South Korea Gerry becomes a globetrotter, hopping to Jerusalem and Wales to try and figure out a cure. Along the way he crosses paths with a few different characters, none of which are very interesting outside of a female Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertesz) who becomes his sidekick of sorts. Gerry also has to fight off his fair share of zombie attacks, some thrilling and others a little corny.

There is an attack in Jerusalem where the zombies begin swarming like ants, piling on top of each other and rolling down city streets like tidal waves. Another attack is aboard a commercial jet and is the most thrilling moment in the film. Outside of these set pieces, everything else is a little flat. The third act deals with zombies not in swarms, but as individual monsters, and these specific undead killers are not well done when isolated. Their teeth chattering and moaning and twitching isn’t frightening, it’s silly. And their senses aren’t consistent it seems; the entire premise of the film is they react to sound, but sometimes they operate by sight instead? And speaking of zombies, the non-infected cast doesn’t do much to generate any emotion.

In between a handful of action scenes, World War Z tries and fails to create an emotional thread. Gerry’s family becomes window dressing after the opening scenes, sitting and waiting on the aircraft carrier without anything to do or to say really. And Pitt’s performance is incredibly withdrawn and flat. He looks bored, or maybe just not into the whole thing. Those rumors that he and Marc Forster butted heads consistently on set might be leaking out into his distance on screen. That is a major issue considering that not one other character in a film about a global epidemic is fleshed out in the slightest. If Pitt is in charge of carrying this whole thing, then perhaps World War Z was doomed from the start.

Which leads me, once again, to the re-writes and chaos behind the scenes. Pitt was originally attracted to the project because of the geopolitical angles of the celebrated Max Brooks novel. The book deals with a whole slew of characters across the globe and their various struggles. Then, everything was chopped up and spit out and re-done to a point where the globetrotting in this film feels forced and rushed. And that ending, that third act, goodness gracious. What a flat and uninteresting wrap up to a film that leaves open the opportunity for a sequel. But I don’t think we need a sequel here, I think we should all go home and watch 28 Days Later instead.