Thursday, January 31, 2013

REVIEW: Warm Bodies

warmbodiesPraise the gods, we are finally living in a post-Twilight society. No disrespect to the teenyboppers (and teenyboppers at heart) who loved the series... but man, those movies were bad. Of course, the downside is that we will now likely be inundated with potential heirs to the throne -- a process which already began with I AM NUMBER FOUR a couple of years ago and looks to continue with the upcoming BEAUTIFUL CREATURES. On the surface, it would be easy to write off WARM BODIES, too, as nothing more than “Twilight with zombies” -- but to do so would be a huge mistake. Indeed, it is about a zombie and a human falling in love. And it does take great, often silly liberties with zombie lore. But it also combines these things with some important qualities that the Twilight saga could never grasp: Humor, intelligence, fun and yes, even heart.

In a familiar post-apocalyptic society, zombies roam free, aimlessly and mindlessly feeding at will. Or perhaps not so mindlessly: Our hero, R (he can't remember his full name), has a running inner monologue, implying that he is aware of what is going on but is powerless to control it. Does he want to kill people and eat their brains? Not really... but such is life (or death). R spends most of his days wandering around an old airport with other zombies, engaging in scintillating conversation (read: senseless grunts) with his best friend, hanging out in his custom lair, contemplating the meaning of it all....

But everything changes one day when R catches a glimpse of Julie and it's love at first sight -- a fairly typical rom-com "thunderbolt" moment -- except for the fact that Julie is human... and the moment occurs during a bloody battle… oh, and R just killed her boyfriend and ate his brains.

WARM BODIESThose minor inconveniences aside, R rescues Julie from the battle and brings her to his lair to keep her safe from other zombies (and even worse, ruthless and cheesily-animated sub-zombie creatures known as "Bonies"). While terrified at first, Julie becomes intrigued by R's kindness, which goes against everything she thinks she knows. R, meanwhile, learns more about Julie's past by eating more of her boyfriend's brains and absorbing his memories (which, in this world, is an ability that zombies have) and slowly but surely rediscovers his own history and humanity. As their unlikely bond becomes stronger, it raises the even less-likely question: Is the power of love strong enough to breathe new life into the undead and save the world?

WarmBodies2Director Jonathan Levine (50/50), who also wrote the brisk screenplay based on Isaac Marion's book, infuses the landscape with plenty of tongue-in-cheek laughs, lots of splatter and even offers some Romero-esque social satire. The savvy viewer may also notice some similarities to a certain Shakespearean couple with the initials R and J -- there's even a balcony scene! -- which adds another cheesy but clever layer. Performances are solid across the board, starting with Nicholas Hoult (perhaps still best known as the kid in ABOUT A BOY), who carries the story well and mixes R’s hunger for human brains with both warmth and angst. As Julie, Teresa Palmer (who was, ironically, in the aforementioned Twilight-wanna-be I AM NUMBER FOUR) is serviceable and WarmBodies1looks good wielding heavy weaponry. Rob Corddry does scene-stealing work as R's best friend -- somewhat reminiscent of his character from HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, but, you know... a zombie. Analeigh Tipton makes a likeable, wacky best friend for Julie, while the great John Malkovich is believable as the leader of the human resistance who will shoot any zombie on sight -- and who also happens to be Julie's father (awkward!).

Zombie movies are almost always fun on some level, and while WARM BODIES is no SHAUN OF THE DEAD, it gives the genre a fun little nudge. I’m sure it will find an audience, but I doubt it will be quite the box office smash that the Twilight saga was -- which is unfortunate, because for a movie about the walking dead, this clever tale of star-cross'd lovers is full of life.

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