By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s the zombicalypse!

That’s what the world is faced with in World War Z, an unnerving large-scale thriller about global zombie mayhem.

Producer Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations crisis specialist and investigator who is forced, along with his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters, to flee Philadelphia and take refuge on a battleship in the wake of an unprecedented zombie epidemic.

(3 stars out of 4)

(3 stars out of 4)

After trying to get his family to safety, Lane must globe-trot around the ruined Earth in a race against time and a search for the origins of a wildfire virus that kills its victims and then reanimates their infected bodies as flesh-eating zombies.

But the zombies in this epidemic behave differently than what we’re used to seeing on the movie screen.  They’re not slow, lurching creatures — they run.

And fast at that, seeming like members of a species that move in unison and become an unstoppable force, not unlike the way birds and bees and ants and locusts and fish show off their group-dance skills in tight, overpopulated formations.

As Lane interviews survivors of the zombie pandemic and cities around the world are piled high with the walking dead, he desperately seeks “patient zero” and a cure.

Director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner) eschews the slow build and jumps right into the fire, then maintains a breakneck pace and a high level of edge-of-your-seat tension, all kinds of striking imagery, and a number of action sequences on an epic scale that are both astonishing and disturbing.

Action isn’t necessarily Forster’s milieu, so some of the frenetic goings-on are difficult to see and follow.  But while his film couldn’t be aptly described as gory, it is nonetheless unmistakably frightening.

(Parents should take the film’s PG-13 rating seriously if they intend to take children.)

The fresh-take-on-zombification screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, and J. Michael Straczynski is loosely based on the 2006 best-seller by first-time novelist Max Brooks (son of Mel), World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.

Offered as the first installment in a potential trilogy, the film offers Pitt not as a summer-movie superhero but as an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.

And he’s more than up to the task.

Another refreshing element is the climax, which takes a less-is-more approach, so rare in recent summer thrillers.  That will disappoint some viewers, who will feel that the makers just couldn’t come up with an appropriately epic ending, and reward others, who will applaud the road-less-traveled approach.

In this corner, we’re applauding it as a superior zombie flick that ends up being a medical mystery.

So we’ll survive 3 stars out of 4 for a gripping and intense science fiction chiller.  A zombie flick with a thinking head on its shoulders, World War Z demonstrates that one human trying to combat a worldwide outbreak of the undead is… the pits.

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