When the zombie apocalypse goes down, it would help if you were very good at running very fast. New-school zombies, the post-Dawn of the Dead remake variety, are sprinters. And they're smart. And they can find you. And when they find you they will scale a building (teamwork!) and leap through the air to yank down the helicopter you're trying to use as a getaway vehicle. Then you will be lunch. Then you will also be a zombie. Cycle repeats as you pull down your own helicopter and eat its occupant, most likely a celebrity, probably Diana Ross.
Or you could be a former United Nations official (Brad Pitt) who's let his hair grow into a style most becoming an unemployable, failed surfer. Then you'd be the only person capable of figuring out how to thwart the worldwide zombie takeover. And why you? Well, the film will not linger over the reasons explaining why you. But it's you. You may not look like Superman but you're all this movie's got.
Meanwhile, the hows and whats of what comes next are the stuff of a reasonably fast-paced, occasionally exciting undead thriller with a ticking clock attached and serious jolts coming at well-timed intervals. And that's it, really. This film made my job incredibly easy; there are no zombies-as-current-social-malady parallels, no thinky meta-demands placed on the audience, no detours into self-aware cleverness and nobody to really worry about. This is a globetrotting horror product that also wants to play in cinemas all over the globe. Complicated plots, subtext and anything gnarlier than a PG-13 wallow in zombie feeding habits would only make that translation more difficult. And the word "zombie" semi-flirting behind a mysterious "Z" in the title is as much surprise as it has up its sleeve. So with Pitt in service to a relentless plot and given very little character to clutter up the screen (requisite stuff: he loves his family; he makes them pancakes) audience zombie-anxiety can be kept at a manageable level and emotional responses streamlined into one minor-league distaste for the idea of being chewed on by a decathlete with half a face.
Those meat-and-potatoes jolts carry it pretty well, though. It might not be the next-level, horror game changer that a mega-budget summer film always pretends to promise; it's not the zombie epic to end them all; it's not even something that could rival 28 Days Later. But it's two hours of goosey, forgettable fun, extravagant action sequences and the threat of louder, but not necessarily better, sequels. Or you could just sit at home and complain about how The Walking Dead isn't what it used to be. Up to you. Which location has better air conditioning?