Significant rewrites, re-shoots, and other meddling have resulted in “World War Z” bearing only a casual resemblance to the very enjoyable book it’s based on, but the movie version — directed by Marc Forster (“Quantum of Solace,” “The Kite Runner”) and attributed to four writers — isn’t bad, either. It’s a more low-key, less explosive view of the zombie apocalypse than we’re accustomed to seeing, with a sober Brad Pitt starring as Gerry Lane, a U.N. investigator who must get his family to safety and then help save the world by figuring out how to stop the undead.
The slower pace and quieter tone can largely be attributed to the studio’s demand that the film be rated PG-13, depriving us of the spraying blood, graphic flesh-eating, and satisfying head shots you often get in a zombie flick. But it’s also different because of the story’s global scale. Most of the world’s large cities have fallen, so Gerry and the military hopscotch from Philadelphia to Korea to Israel to Wales, examining the small successes other countries have had and pursuing possible remedies. Along the way are a handful of modestly entertaining action sequences and creepy images (like a horde of zombies climbing over each other like ants to scale a high wall), though nothing that’ll stop your heart.
Even if you didn’t know there’d been behind-the-scenes turmoil, you’d be able to see it on the screen. Gerry’s wife (Mireille Enos) and young daughters are quickly rendered irrelevant to the story, but the movie keeps cutting back to them, as if out of obligation. (One daughter’s asthma attack is tossed in as a transparently contrived attempt to inject suspense.) Blink and you’ll miss Matthew Fox as a soldier: he was evidently a larger part of the original ending, but now he has one line of dialogue before disappearing altogether. No one, Brad Pitt included, displays much personality or vitality (excepting maybe David Morse, who has one scene as a semi-crazy ex-CIA agent). Still, the third act, involving some stealthy creeping through W.H.O. corridors and face-offs with zombies, brings everything to a climax that I’d call acceptable, if not completely satisfying. If you have a thirst for zombie movies, this one will quench it but won’t deliver anything you haven’t seen before, much less anything you’ll remember by the time the next zombie movie comes out.
C+ (1 hr., 56 min.; )