“Warm”-hearted, if not great

warm bodies

Warm Bodies

dir. Jonathan Levine

Release Date: Feb 01, 13

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Horror movie purists are going to be apoplectic about Warm Bodies, a cute and kindhearted teen-skewing romantic comedy about a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland. The film cherry-picks bits of mythology and canon from many zombie films, but its bread and butter is its poking around the slow-moving, brain-hungry monsters that George Romero created, without as much pointedly disturbing social commentary. And, for what might be the first time, a zombie is not only the lead in the film but also a sex symbol. It’s not hard when the hoodie-wearing R was/is Nicholas Hoult, he of the piercing blue eyes. Covering him in dark eyeshadow and scars only ensures that Hot Topic denizens the nation over will be wearing his visage for years to come.

R’s primary home is a jet liner on the tarmac of an airport filled with the walking dead (a bad piece of pop culture to invoke in a film that plays fast and loose with the “rules” of zombie lore). He passes his days lurching about, occasionally stopping for a grunted conversation with D (Rob Corddry) before retiring to his plane for another night of listening to John Waite’s “Missing You” on vinyl and moping. Many of the film’s big laughs come from R’s inner monologue, skillfully handled by writer-director Jonathan Levine; R just wants human connection the way that people once did. He finds it when hunting one day, when he stumbles upon a horde of survivors led by the comely Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend, the authoritarian Perry (Dave Franco). After a clever and somewhat grisly turn of events allows the instantly smitten R to get to know Julie better, he rescues her from the horde and attempts to win her over, the whole reanimated corpse thing notwithstanding.

In case the whole R and Julie allegory is too subtle, the film helpfully adds a second class of zombies called “Bonies,” zombies who’ve shed the last vestiges of humanity and become nightmarish skeletons, on R’s side of the “big wall” separating the zombie hordes from the outsiders. Likewise, Julie’s father (John Malkovich, given little to do) happens to be the leader of the human resistance, a shadowy figure inherently prejudiced against all zombies. When R starts to show signs of returning to life as a result of Julie entering his, the film treats Malkovich like a moustache-twirling villain instead of a logic-oriented survivalist. The two warring factions inevitably begin to come together, while Julie and her best friend (Analeigh Tipton) help R attempt to spread the word about the zombies’ healing process. Hoult is a genial presence, and manages a decent chemistry with Palmer, but she’s given so little to do that Hoult, for the most part, has to anchor the film’s emotional core by himself.

While this process is an “aww”-worthy conceit, Warm Bodies doesn’t take its central conflict much further than that. Though most romantic comedies forecast their structures and big finales from about the 15-minute mark onward, here viewers are asked to invest in a story that’ll only end one way. The film’s tone and general style (popular modern soundtrack, cute romantic montages, helpfully expository dream sequence) negate any sort of ominous atmosphere, to such a point that nothing that keeps R and Julie apart is particularly convincing. By the time the film’s big battle takes place, a battle that’s good for a few chuckles but once again a foregone conclusion, there’s little about Warm Bodies that feels as innovative as the film seems to think it is. Clever? Sure. Sweet? Absolutely. But those things make a watchable movie, not a particularly memorable one.