Thursday, February 7, 2013

Warm Bodies

Nicholas Hoult, Rob Corddry, and Teresa Palmer in Warm Bodies
**1/2 out of ****

It’s the beginning of a new year! This means that unless you’re catching up with Oscar candidates from the films of last year, which are currently in theaters, you don’t have many options in terms of good new movies. This is when studios release every movie for which they had little faith. So here’s a movie about a zombie who falls in love…

Meet R, played by Nicholas Hoult (eye candy to some) He is our zombie hero for the film who barely possesses the ability to speak, so his thoughts function as the movie’s narration. His words to the audience are friendly and seek sympathy for his existence that is rather devoid of good feelings or nice memories. The first letter “R” is all he can remember of his original name. His desire for human flesh is necessary to stay alive and brains are the best part. When you eat the brain of another, you experience their memories providing a euphoric feeling of being alive again.

As he and a herd of corpses attack a group of survivors searching for medical supplies, he encounters Julie played by Teresa Palmer (eye candy to others). He falls in love at first sight. R winds up killing Julie’s boyfriend and eating his brains, absorbing his memories, which leads him to learn more about Julie. She does not witness this, but R catches up with her as she is in a defenseless state, abandoned by the surviving members of the party. He then smears blood on her face to give her the appearance of another corpse and takes her back to his lair in an abandoned airline jet to keep her safe.

Julie slowly learns that R possesses characteristics she wouldn’t assume a walking corpse to have. He collects vinyl records and antiques. He can also muster up the ability to speak a word or two… or three or twenty.

Julie grows to care about R and wonders if the corpses are possible to save. Maybe she can convince her father, General Malkovich (I wish that were his character’s name) to reconsider his war on the dead.

The movie also establishes the Boneys: Zombies who have deteriorated down to walking skeletal beings who are the elite among the dead. Since this movie asks us to care about the walking corpses, there has to be another antagonist that is more zombie than zombie.

Let me get the obvious out of the way first: The idea of a zombie point of view works entirely against the purpose of a zombie. They are unthinking unfeeling beings robbing bodies of life and individuality. The interior monologue of a zombie is absurd and is therefore intended to be funny.

Warm Bodies is writer-director Jonathan Levine’s attempt at making a romantic zombie comedy. Based on a novel of the same name, the story is deliberately silly in concept, but I feel like it still became unnecessarily sincere at times. There are parts that get the tone absolutely right. The narration is funny and some of the synth-pop love music soundtrack selections make a wonderful contrast to the morbid atmosphere. On the other hand, Levine often fails to embrace the story’s corniness. This is his third film, and like The Wackness and 50/50 it has a daringly intriguing idea, but lacks a strong central foundation.

I’ve always understood that the trick to making a goofy idea work, is to give it heavy subtext and this film has its share of allegorical elements and a story that deliberately echoes Romeo and Juliet –minus the tragedy. Though the movie dabbles in deeper meaning, none of it is solid enough to keep it energized or get away with the “love conquers all” resolution.

There are a few big laughs including another great jab at the predictability of groan-inducing montage scenes (Team America: World Police still ranks at #1 at doing this). It was also great to see Rob Corddry cast against type, playing a short-spoken Zombie and not an over-the-top comical jack-ass.

This may have been a unique comic twist on the zombie genre but it doesn’t succeed the same way Shaun of the Dead did and doesn't approach the hilarity of Zombieland. Warm Bodies isn’t terrible, but I felt its mediocrity left me with a lifeless feeling as I made my way out of the theater when the credits rolled. Is the popularity of zombies making zombies of us?

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