Touted by critics and audiences everywhere as the “Romeo and Juliet” of zombie stories, “Warm Bodies” is a creepy, unique premise for a twist on the undead genre. It is a satisfyingly typical love story—adapted from Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name—between the blonde and living Julie (Teresa Palmer) and an unusual zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult).
Sometime after the apocalypse, humans live behind a high-walled fortress in a city, guarded by civilians trained to be soldiers. Julie and a group of youths are sent beyond the fortification to retrieve medication when they run into R’s ever-hungry pack of undead. Here, there is a distinction made between two types of zombies: corpses, which is what R and his friends fall under, and the Bonies—vicious skeletal zombies who are described as corpses that have lost all hope of turning back.
Director Jonathan Levine (“50/50,” “The Wackness”) is known for his work with unconventional romances, and he manages to turn this movie into an unexpectedly sweet and playful romance-horror. There is believable chemistry between Hoult and Palmer; however, it is Hoult who pulls off the truly impressive performance as a corpse who slowly returns to life after eating and absorbing the brains of Perry (Dave Franco), Julie’s boyfriend.
It’s certainly a disgusting habit, but the zombies feel most alive when they’re chomping on human brains (also known as “the best part”); it’s an experience akin to getting high. This flesh-eating is a good reminder that despite the story’s romance and humor, it’s still very much about death and doing whatever it takes to stay alive. As the other corpses sense R’s slow transformation due to his affections for Julie, they, too, begin to feel their hearts slowly beat again. This angers the Bonies, who despise the scent of hope and life, and are bent on wiping out both humans and corpses once and for all.
Hoult’s wide-eyed, boyish demeanor makes him perfect for the role of the naïve and sentimental R. We soon realize that he has the ability to form coherent thoughts, but lacks the ability to vocalize them until he starts developing feelings for Julie. R’s internal monologues never fail to earn chuckles from the audience, as Hoult’s deadpan voiceovers capture the genuine confusion and determination of a dead boy struggling to impress his crush without scaring her off. On the other hand, we have Teresa Palmer in her first starring role, and while there is strength in the emotions conveyed through her facial expressions, her deliveries are unfortunately flat, much like Kristen Stewart’s. This imbalance in her acting makes Julie a heroine who is difficult to identify with, much less cheer on, especially since Hoult steals every scene they both share.
Levine plays to the film’s strengths and its target audience by setting R’s charming, endearing and often cheesy internal monologue to a hip, modern soundtrack comprised of artists ranging from Guns N’ Roses and Bruce Springsteen to Bon Iver and The National. However, I found the second half of the movie to be dissatisfying and lackluster. Julie is a little too quick to forgive R for devouring her boyfriend’s brain, and the great potential for emotional confrontation within that conflict is quickly swept under the rug. The montage of the girls applying makeup on R’s face and bathing him was unnecessary and dumbed down the content of the film, crossing the line from romantic horror into simple teenage rom-com.
Analeigh Tipton (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”) is cast as the formulaic “funny best friend” of the lead actress, but her portrayal of Nora isn’t nearly as forgettable or disappointing as John Malkovich’s General Grigio, Julie’s tough, unforgiving father. Malkovich is wasted on “Warm Bodies,” as it appears that Levine has no idea how to utilize the actor’s trademark drawl or biting sarcasm and wit. Instead, General Grigio’s character is reduced to nothing more than an angry man who is quick to shoot and slow to reason.
It’s hard to ignore the glaring faults within “Warm Bodies.” The story, while solid and intriguing in the beginning, melts into a puddle of predictability and fails to deliver by its end. Nevertheless, despite these shortcomings, it’s commendable that Levine doesn’t waste any effort in trying to make “Warm Bodies” into something other than what it is—a clichéd, cheesy take on zombie romance. And it’s infinitely better to be a successful cliché rather than a pretentious load of crock.
Rating: 2.5 stars