Undead And Uptight: World War Z, Reviewed.S

1. At this point, the zombie movie has gone through just about every permutation possible, from its low-budget schlock horror roots all the way into the world of comedy, faux-documentary, Western, even romance. The one thing we haven't seen yet from the zombie genre, at least until the release of World War Z, is the bloated, overproduced, overexpensive and impersonal Hollywood blockbuster zombie movie. Was this something anyone had really been waiting for? As far as it goes, it's a perfectly serviceable, if slapdash, studio action movie, but it's still strange to watch: This is a genre that's supposed to be messy and bloody and over-the-top, but World War Z is all stately and lumbering. Making a big, traditional Brad Pitt PG-13 action fest out of the zombie apocalypse, frankly, feels like a waste of a good zombie apocalypse.

2. Fans of Max Brooks' book—a group of which I am a gleeful member—won't recognize much here, save for the global zombie infestation that threatens to bring down civilization. You definitely won't find much of that book's wit or satire in the film; the movie is doggedly serious, for reasons I don't quite understand. (It's a movie featuring Lt. Aldo Raine killin' zombies. Try to have some fun.) It's basically about Gerry Lane (Pitt), a retired UN investigator, traveling across the world trying to figure out a way to stave off the zombie hordes and find a cure. He starts in Philadelphia and heads to Newark, South Korea, Jerusalem, Wales and Nova Scotia, running to and fro, looking terrific and scared. (In many ways, it's an apocalypse travelogue. Would have been nice to see Paris.) Gone is the book's vast scope and myriad of characters; this is Brad Pitt Saving The World.

3. The odd thing about World War Z is that it acts like it's the first zombie movie anyone has ever made. There are no nods to the countless zombie movies of the past, no notion that zombies could stand in as a metaphor for anything. (The handy thing about zombies is that they're metaphors for everything.) Instead, they're just Big Summer Action Movie Villains, masses and masses of CGI monsters attacking endlessly. They're just something Brad Pitt has to figure out how to kill. This can be deadening and certainly bewildering to anyone who has ever seen a zombie movie before—which is to say, everyone—and it's odd that Pitt seems to have tried to make a family-friendly zombie movie, with no gore and no real despair. It's the end of the world and everyone feels fine, except for those few poor souls being brained off screen.

4. The movie infamously went through a ton of reshoots and production troubles, and I wonder if it lost a lot of backstory in the process. As it is now, it's basically five major action setpieces, with Pitt, somewhat improbably, at the middle of all of them. As empty as this film is at its core, as gutted as the story feels, I cannot deny that the setpieces worked. The two best ones are full of fun special effects, one involving an ascending mass of zombies scaling a massive wall around Jerusalem and the other featuring a particularly scary plane crash. You think you've seen every possible plane crash in a movie, and then they find a new way to get you, every time. Can't think of much worse than a zombie on a plane. Of course, that's another issue with World War Z: "Zombie on a plane" sounds kitschy and hilarious. In World War Z, no one notes, "hey, zombie on a plane, that's crazy." It's treated with a little bit too much of a straight face for a movie that's not particularly serious, if you get what I mean.

5. For a movie that feels slapped together with gristle and spit—the reshoots on this thing must have been massive, and it still doesn't make much sense at a story or thematic level—World War Z, improbably, is still plenty entertaining. Pitt may be one of the main reasons for this. He's not particularly charismatic here—I prefer either full-movie-star-wattage Pitt or crazy-eyed over-the-top Pitt; he's more Stoic Action Guy in World War Z—but he invests the proceedings with a level of purpose that carries us along from setpiece to setpiece. He seems to really want this movie to work, and that's the power of a good movie star: When all else is falling apart, a little conviction can go a long way. Longtime zombie movie fans will scoff at World War Z's plodding, lumbering nature, and all told, you're probably better off just renting 28 Days Later again. But you could also do a lot worse for your summer entertainment buck. I'm not sure this is a real zombie movie. But it delivers anyway.

Grade: B-.