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Review: 'World War Z' a zombie movie with brains

By Mark Greczmiel, Contributing writer
Published On: Jun 20 2013 10:46:42 AM MDT
Updated On: Jun 20 2013 11:45:35 AM MDT
Brad Pitt in World War Z

Paramount Pictures

Zombies have been a hot commodity in Hollywood the last few years, ranging from movies such as "Zombieland," "I am Legend" and "Resident Evil" to the current hit cable TV show "The Walking Dead."

That makes it a bit of a surprise that the zombie theme is not front-and-center in the ads for the new Brad Pitt horror-thriller "World War Z." While the TV spots give the sense that there's panic in the cities, they give no indication that the living dead are the cause.

Maybe the marketing folks at Paramount were worried that highlighting the zombie aspect might keep some people away. Those who do decide to pass on this movie would be missing a very entertaining film.

One note: I don't want to give away too many plot points so I'll keep some of this review rather general.

Here are the basics: The story starts in Philadelphia (with Glasgow, Scotland, doubling as the City of Brotherly Love) where former U.N. inspector Gerry Lane (Pitt) is driving with his wife (Mireille Enos of the AMC series "The Killing") and their two young daughters. They quickly realize something is wrong when they see police racing ahead of them, and then hundreds of people running toward them. The reason? Zombies are attacking, and these aren't the slow-walking, spaced-out variety, but rather the fast, noisy and absolutely relentless kind. All this makes for an opening sequence that's shocking and extremely effective.

The experts believe the zombies are the result of a pandemic that is spreading at lightning speed. Because of Gerry's U.N. experience in dangerous places, he and his family get evacuated to an aircraft carrier where a special team is assembled. He, along with a medical expert and a group of special forces guys then fly off on an international quest to find out where the pandemic started and how to stop it.

"World War Z" is based on the novel by Max Brooks and the screenplay was tackled by a number of writers, including Matthew Michael Carnahan ("State of Play") and J. Michael Straczynski. ("Thor"). The story moves at a fast pace, with characters coming and going for short, intense and memorable scenes. James Badge Dale is particularly effective as an Army Ranger who is duty-bound and determined to take care of business.

The film is directed by Marc Forster, who has done wildly different movies in the past. His credits range from "Finding Neverland" to "The Kite Runner" to the James Bond film "Quantum of Solace."

He masterfully transitions from big-scale scenes loaded with visual effects to much smaller encounters that are packed with intensity. So many movies lately inundate audiences with CG-infused, wild action sequences that are so over the top that they numb the audience into submission. With "World War Z," some of the best moments come in scenes like one in which Gerry and his crew need to silently move through a building, trying not to wake the zombies that lurk nearby. It makes for very nail-biting action.

The zombies themselves are great. Some were cast for their dance skills that they translate into freakish movements amped up even more by wonderful make-up and some really scary sound effects.

As for the actors, Brad Pitt gives one of his better performances in a movie that doesn't feel like the usual star vehicle. His character comes across as a low-key guy who just wants to get the job done and get back to his family. He gets great back-up from Israeli actress Daniella Kertesz in her first movie role. She delivers a memorable turn as a tough female soldier who gets put through an emotional and physical ringer.

"World War Z" is a zombie horror movie, but it's also intelligent, effective and very entertaining.