Hollywood’s given us a few memorable movies narrated by corpses, but not one narrated by a zombie corpse,
Director: Jonathan Levine
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Hollywood’s given us a few memorable movies narrated by corpses—Sunset Boulevard and Reversal of Fortune among them—but not one narrated by a zombie corpse, and certainly never in a warm, fuzzy, likeable romantic-comedy-of-the-living-dead the likes of Warm Bodies.
Based on a smart and edgy novel by Isaac Marion, adapted and directed for the screen by Jonathan Levine (50/50), the love story plays out against the backdrop of a dystopian future post–zombie apocalypse, a world in which tough, ever-wary survivors live in walled cities beyond which prowl hungry hordes of the undead, who spend their hours hunting and meandering endlessly through such locales as a deserted airport.
But even those lost souls face constant competition and warfare with Bonies, the most craven, devolved and voracious of all members of the zombie nation. We’re meant to think of these warring zombie factions as Montagues and Capulets or, if you like, Sharks and Jets because Warm Bodies is littered with allusions to Romeo and Juliet. Naturally, the movie gives us star-crossed young lovers—they even get a balcony scene. There’s a funny, self-deprecating, lonely zombie named “R” (Nicholas Hoult) who develops an unlikely crush on “Julie” (Teresa Palmer) after he and his gang slaughter a few of her friends during a hunt for medical supplies. After R devours the brains of Julie’s boyfriend (Dave Franco), he kidnaps her and spirits her back to his home in an abandoned airplane where he shows her kindness and plays her love songs on vinyl. Yep, you’re supposed to make The Phantom of the Opera let alone Beauty and the Beast connections.
Warm Bodies is the kind of end of the world movie in which an airport’s power grid still functions, humans find time and materials to wall in their cities and Polaroid cameras are still hanging around, but, hey, if you’re looking for logic, remember: this thing’s a zombie movie, for Pete’s sake. Anyway, our lovebirds’ sweet little affair sends them rushing to Julie’s military leader father (John Malkovich, in an MIA performance) to try and convince him that the zombies (including R’s Mercutio-like friend “M,” played by Rob Corddry) are not only regaining their powers of speech and empathy but also their humanity, leading to a human-zombie kickass kumbaya and an all-out war to defeat the really, truly, definitely dead Bonies.
Okay, so maybe the messages of peace, love and tolerance get hit overly insistently, but at least Hoult and Palmer are pretty and charming, if lacking in heat or passion. Anyway, they’re certainly more fun to watch than those two flatliners in the Twilight movies. Corddry, who usually tries way too hard, is really good, scoring a couple of big laughs, and the film’s wry running commentary on contemporary life as already detached, robotic and zombified is fun, if more economically explored in Shaun of the Dead. The whole movie has a winning whimsy, let alone some terrific use of tunes by Bon Iver, M83 and Bruce Springsteen, among others.