So zombies are the new sparkly vampires huh? Or so you’d think, judging by the marketing campaign for undead rom-com Warm Bodies. Brooding heart-throb tween poster pin-up male lead? Check. Open-mouthed young female object of his affections? Check. But despite what you might think, Warm Bodies is actually a pretty smart spin on the zombie movie and succeeds in some, but not all, ways as a gory romance for the nerd audience.
“R” (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie mindlessly wandering an airport that still has feelings and thoughts – even though he can’t articulate them or even remember his own name. Unlike most stereotypical zombies, he can somewhat communicate through grunts and even form pseudo-friendships with other zombies. He’s lonely and feels out-of-place, like his undead existence is missing something, until Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her band of survivors on a supply mission get attacked by “R” and his pack, and he makes the unlikely choice to save her.
Most of the humor in the film comes from the odd pairing of young romance with a zombie apocalypse story, and the internal monologue of protagonist “R” does some clever things with the parallels of being awkward with girls and being a zombie that, for lack of a more manly term, are quite “adorable.” Warm Bodies also makes some humorous light nods, reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead, to our current society being a form of disconnected zombies with our faces always glued to iPhones and avoiding any real human connection.
The additions to the zombie mythology were all pretty harmless but fun, most notably zombies retaining rational thought and the ability to communicate and adapt. They even threw in explaining the zombie love of brains because it gives them a “high” by allowing them to re-live the human memories of the poor sap that just got eaten, even though the idea was really just used as a convenient plot device for exposition.
Writer/director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness, 50/50) plays the romance heavier than the comedy or zombie horror, but does a nice job of not letting any of the elements completely take over the movie. To be fair, the film is much more of a “chick flick” than even the trailers have suggested, and there is certainly some groan-inducing “love conquers all” moments that bring the film down from being a more interesting dark comedy.
One of the other biggest problems are the numerous logic jumps, even in a film with as silly a premise as this one. At one point Julie has a car that she inexplicably does NOT use to escape the zombies, choosing instead to go for a joyride with “R,” and then later decides out of nowhere to use it to escape the zombies! That kind of inconsistent, sloppy writing used to create a “cute” scene between “R” and Julie or simply just advance the plot is riddled throughout Warm Bodies and keeps the movie from truly excelling.
Nicholas Hoult (X-men: First Class) is given the daunting task of being likable/lovable as “R” without really being able to express much beyond his voice-overs and stilted grunting for much of the film, but his comedic timing and his hilarious but subtle zombified looks he gives Julie really sell the character. Rob Cordry (The Daily Show, Hot Tub Time Machine) is given a similar task as “R”s zombie buddy “M” but with less consistent success. Teresa Palmer walks a fine line between endearing and Kristen Stewart-level annoying as Julie, but fortunately falls more into the former category. Julie’s fiancée Perry (Dave Franco – yes, his brother is that Franco) is a waste of a role, as is Julie’s father General Grigio (John Malkovich) who clearly was used for veteran actor name recognition and not character development.
The film isn’t without its problems but has some legitimate laughs, some sincere romance, and what everyone really wants: zombie violence, all mixed together in a pretty satisfying mash-up cocktail. Although a bit unconventional, Warm Bodies is an enjoyably original film and our nerd readers would be hard-pressed to find a better fit if they intend on taking their significant others out to the theater this Valentine’s Day season.