Leave Before the End

'World War Z' is not particularly frightening, but the last third is just embarrassing

With World War Z, we are getting two-thirds of a halfway decent movie. It has a helluva start, and an even better middle, making it seem like it's going to deliver the big summer goods.

Then, in its final act, it totally craps out.

Too bad, because I was looking to Brad Pitt's zombie movie as relief from the mediocre big-budget blockbusters we've gotten this summer (with the blessed exceptions of Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness). The much troubled production shows every one of its scars, especially in its bungled, positively ridiculous finale.

Those who frequent movie websites know that director Marc Forster was overseeing a tumultuous production that resulted in big delays and crucial reshoots. Lost and Prometheus scribe Damon Lindelof was brought in to write an all-new ending.

That ending strains so hard to be clever that you can see the throbbing veins popping out of its head. In a movie that called for a finale that kicked mortal ass, Lindelof and Forster deliver a few minutes of Brad Pitt hanging out in a refrigerator while a lone zombie chatters its teeth.

This is one of the least scary zombie films you are likely to see. Heck, I think I even got some better creeps out of this year's zom-rom-com Warm Bodies. At PG-13, the movie can't afford to show much blood, so scenes such as somebody's hand getting chopped off end up rather tame. Forster and company pull too many punches, the sense of dread ratchets down, and the reliance is on pure thrills and action.

The film does deliver on the action in a killer opening sequence that sees Pitt's Gerry Lane and his family stranded in a Philadelphia traffic jam as a zombie apocalypse goes into full swing. The revved-up zombies of this film apparently have some sort of rabies, and they aren't interested in dinner. They just want to bite and move on as rapid a pace as possible in order to spread their contagion.

Pitt's Lane, a retired U.N. employee, finds himself in a race to find a solution for the zombie plague, a race he is forced into in order to protect his family. Pitt, a well-renowned family man, is good for the part, and he gives it a good go.

Honestly, the sight of zombies forming an anthill to scale a wall in Israel, and a nerve-rattling sequence above a jumbo jet, qualify as two of the coolest sequences to show up in a movie this year. It's a shame that they show up in a movie that runs out of gas.

I won't give up the major details of Lindelof's screenplay tinkering. I will tell you that when you try to apply any kind of logic to his solutions, it just doesn't play. It seems as if the budget on this thing was skyrocketing, and they had to come up with something less expensive than a huge set piece at the end. This results in a movie that not only fails to deliver on its promise, but also does so in a bland, somewhat moronic way.

Zombies clinging to a flying helicopter and bringing it down is another memorable sequence. Their quick "turning" process results in some good, spasmodic physical acting.

As for reliance on the original novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel), this is pretty much an adaptation by title only. So, fans of the novel and fans of bloody zombies are going to be let down.

Fans of Pitt will see their hero (who also co-produced the film) laboring to save millions of dollars from the scrap heap. World War Z ultimately feels derivative in its zombie portrayal (echoes of 28 Days Later), wimpy in its lack of bloodletting, and played out by film's end.

I was all set for this film's big finale, and disappointed that the movie didn't have one final big trick up its sleeve. Pitt's voice-over proclaims "This isn't the end." Unfortunately, that same voice-over is in fact signaling the end of a movie that was set up for a knockout blow, and delivers an ineffective kick to the shin.

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