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‘World War Z’ as entertaining as hell, thanks to Brad Pitt and non-stop action

‘WORLD WAR Z’ ★★★½

Gerry Lane Brad Pitt

Karin Lane Mireille Enos

Burt Reynolds David Morse

Segen Daniella Kertesz

Speke James Badge Dale

Warmbrunn Ludi Boeken

Constance Lane Sterling Jerins

Rachel Lane Abigail Hargrove

Thierry Fana Mokoena

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Marc Forster. Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, J. Michael Straczynski, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof and Max Brooks, based on the novel by Brooks. Rated PG-13 (for intense, frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images). Running time: 116 minutes. Opening Friday at local theaters.

Updated: July 22, 2013 5:10PM

Like the heroes in just about every end-of-the-world thriller ever made, Brad Pitt’s Gerry in “World War Z” has the ability to see things no one else can see, figure out things no one else can figure out, overcome obstacles no one else can overcome.

The doctors and scientists frantically searching for the origins of the mutation that caused the Zombie Apocalypse, leaders of the Armed Forces evacuating cities and trying to figure out how to kill these things, the remaining diplomats and elected officials barking orders even as entire cities are overrun — at one point or another, they all get out of the way and let Gerry do this thing.

And why not? He’s Brad Pitt. Even in that dubious haircut that makes him look like a drag queen in the very early stages of figuring out who he is, he’s BRAD PITT. If you can’t get TOM CRUISE or WILL SMITH, you can’t do much better than BRAD PITT, am I right?

Before Gerry retired from a life of constant danger to be with his family, he was a United Nations investigator of the highest order, the best in the world at solving, um, all sorts of international crimes in the most harrowing circumstances imaginable. (And yes, before all hell breaks loose and he has to spring into action, we get the obligatory Chaotic Breakfast Scene, with Gerry making pancakes for his gorgeous buzzkill of a wife and their two impossibly adorable daughters, with Mom and Dad exchanging loving glances every five seconds because life is perfect and what could possibly go wrong?)

There’s not a whole lot of explanation for why zombies are overrunning cities around the world, swarming in huge herds like fast-motion ants and “turning” nearly every human in their path. (In one particularly cool special effect, the super-fast zombies climb an insurmountable wall by creating their own Zombie Ladder, clawing over one another to get to the tasty human flesh on the other side.) All we need to know is that Gerry is humanity’s best hope to figure out the source of this virus and get to work on a cure before the population is wiped out.

There’s plenty of tension, measured doses of gore and some terrific set pieces as Gerry’s quest takes him from Korea to Jerusalem to Nova Scotia. Even when he’s safely in the air, he might not necessarily be safe.

If you’re as zombie’d out as I am by now, and you feel “The Walking Dead” cable TV series has set the all-time standard for popular culture entertainment about the flesh-chomping undead, your reluctance to see “World War Z” is understandable. All I can tell you is, there’s fresh blood here, just as there was in the oddly endearing “Warm Bodies” a few months ago.

“World War Z” trafficks in a lot of familiar territory, but thanks to the wickedly vibrant source material (Max Brooks’ 2006 horror novel), some slick and darkly funny directorial choices by Marc Forster and terrific performances from Pitt and the supporting cast, it’s entertaining as hell.

While “World War Z” provides nearly non-stop action, there are only a few scenes of the zombies chomping madly at the air as they sniff out their prey or dig into another meal. Rated PG-13, “World War Z” isn’t nearly as gruesome as a typical episode of “The Walking Dead.” This is more of a thriller than a sci-fi bloodbath, with a couple of brilliantly constructed sequences where the humans are trying to be really quiet, and the zombies are starting to stir, and you just know somebody’s going to clang into something or let a door slam, and then it will be time to RUN!

At times, the attempts to get profound and draw real-world parallels to contagious diseases are close to unintentionally funny. The paths placed in Gerry’s way range from the plausible to “you’ve got to be kidding me.” And Gerry’s lightbulb moment occurs to him about a half-hour after a good percentage of audience members will figure it out.

The only movie hero faster, stronger and nobler than Gerry in theaters right now is Superman. Even after this guy has survived a plane crash and he’s got a sheaf of metal sticking through his mid-section, Gerry needs just three days to recover before he’s back at it, leading the charge against the zombies. It’s ridiculous, but Pitt sells it.

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