Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In Brief: WORLD WAR Z (2013)

Did you ever see one of the old time movie serials? The story builds to a climax every fifteen minutes or so and after an implausible escape the story moves on. Now, have you ever seen one of those feature films made by compressing a serial into 90 minutes or less? Usually they have all the cliffhangers while jettisoning much of the exposition and most of what little character development there was in the original. That's what World War Z is like. To be fair, Brad Pitt and Marc Foster have closer to two hours to work with and manage to fit more exposition in. But there's the same sort of perfunctory sensationalism to their production, notoriously troubled but eventually modestly triumphant at the box office. Action scenes -- for this is an action rather than a horror film -- arrive with a telegraphed inevitability that smothers any suspense the filmmakers hoped to generate. Much like the film's "zekes," the film itself is energetically lifeless, taking for granted that our empathy for "family" or our adoration of Pitt will keep us emotionally involved without director, writers or actors really doing anything to engage us. The irony of the project is that the zombie at its heart is Brad Pitt. Repeatedly, Pitt has proven his versatility and charisma as an actor, from the subtle villainy of his Jesse James to his sublime idiocy in Burn After Reading, but his ambition as an actor seems inversely proportional to his ambition, as a producer, to make money. He seems to think that, to be a hero, or at least an action hero, he doesn't have to develop an interesting personality. His protagonist is an automaton, though he looks like a professional wrestler (it's the hair, mainly) bereft of the gift of gab, barely personalized by the era's prevalent reluctant-hero cliches -- yet perversely, this character, if it can be called that, dominates the story in a way that no one, or so I understand, dominates Max Brooks's source novel. As Pitt trots the globe, abortive characters threaten to form around him, only to be abandoned, with the exception of a female Israeli soldier whose infected hand he helpfully amputates during the great bug-out from Jerusalem. You get none of the abrasive interaction of personalities in distress that defines the zombie movie as much as the zombies do. Everyone involved with the project seemed more interested in the novel ways they make the zekes move, but it is all too often rendered from too great a distance and too much in the manner of video games to seem as strange as it's supposed to, let alone frightening. Foster proves incapable of generating real thrills, and his commitment to a PG-13 rating denies viewers even the simplest pleasures (gore, that is) of zombie films. Sure, the fate of the world's at stake, but when isn't it in movies? The real question is, when have you cared less?

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