Brad Pitt is not the world’s greatest actor, but he does have talent and movie-star charisma. More important, though, he has good taste which proves he’s not a hack. Movies like Moneyball, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Tree of Life and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button prove he’s interested in quality material that isn’t necessarily commercial. He isn’t Sly Stallone or Steven Seagal.
So what is he doing producing and starring in World War Z when he could be doing something a lot more interesting than shooting zombies in the face? That’s easy. He’s in Paycheck Mode. He thinks he needs to carry a bona-fide blockbuster series in order to keep him in the style to which he’s become accustomed. Here are five ways you can tell he’s doing it strictly for the bucks.
1) The New Movie Is High-Concept, Meaning Low-Effort on the Part of the Audience.
You can’t explain the appeal of Moneyball or Jesse James in a sentence, but World War Z is simply a movie about your average ordinary expert UN diplomat/action hero/scientist/dad who singlehandedly saves the world from an unexplained zombie outbreak. Problem: the audience figures out early going in that this is pretty much going to be the whole story, so the only reason to stick around is to ogle the special effects and worship his Bradness. The movie is set up to launch a franchise that would replace the Ocean’s series with an easy way for Brad to replenish the bank account every couple of years, but with cost overruns driving the budget up to some $200 million — some say the true figure is closer to $300 million — the zombie thriller seems unlikely to spark a sequel.
2) The Cast Is Full of Nobodies.
Mireille Enos? James Badge Dale? Daniella Kertesz? Fana Mokoena? Who are these people? Looks like there wasn’t much money left in the salary jar to hire anyone good after Brad took his cut. Or maybe every supporting actor who got a look at the script decided to pass because there wasn’t much for them to do. Which brings up….
3) It’s All About Brad.
In Pitt’s quality movies, he’s shown a lot of generosity in sharing the screen, allowing other characters to make an impact. Jesse James was an ensemble piece, Moneyball gave almost equal time to the Jonah Hill character and he was a relatively small element of the epics The Tree of Life and Inglourious Basterds. Even in his interesting failures, like Killing Them Softly, which featured Ray Liotta and the late James Gandolfini, Pitt has been willing to share the spotlight. Not in World War Z, in which all other characters essentially spend their time watching Brad be awesome. The film is as much a showcase for Brad as the similarly forgettable, lowest-common-denominator efforts Meet Joe Black and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
4) Nobody Worked Up Much of a Sweat Over the Script.
Scripts matter more in movies about people talking than they do in movies about people screaming, running, climbing walls, hanging off helicopters and eating each other. The immense CGI spectacle of, say, thousands of zombies swarming Jerusalem or going nuts on an airplane with a hole blown out of its side gave the writers a sense that they didn’t need to worry so much about creating connecting tissue, much less delivering interesting dialogue. Just know that wherever there’s a problem, Brad will be there to ask a couple of questions, figure it out, then move on to the next hotspot and repeat. Brad is, apparently, fine with all this.
5) There’s Absolutely No Need to See the Movie a Second Time.
Movies like Tree of Life, Basterds, Jesse James or even the tendentious left-wing mob drama Killing Them Softly develop actual ideas that repay repeat viewings, but World War Z is as mindless as a slasher movie. Once you know what happens next, it’s impossible to take any interest in it. Pitt has been in so many good movies that he has enough sense to know this, but he decided a stupid flick will always attract audiences if it’s big and loud and explosive enough. Not necessarily. There are a lot of effects-driven movies out there at the same time. People aren’t going to go see all of them.