Eight years after the zombie apocalypse, zombie-fighting girl befriends an undead boy in Warm Bodies, a romantic zomedy.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie, but he’s a soulful zombie, one who wishes there were more to his non-life than eating the brains out of the few remaining humans and shambling through the airport — where he, you know, “lives” — with his buddy (Rob Corddry). Their friendship consists primarily of pushing out one grunted word at each other, but that is more than most zombie communication and is part of what makes them far more human than the “bonies,” zombies that are decomposed to the point of being insensible skeletons. (The bonies are also hungrier than the regular zombies and, unlike R and his shuffling cohort, quite fast.)
R and friends head out to find tasty brains, which is where he runs in to Julie (Teresa Palmer). A recent recruit to the zombie-fighting army, Julie is with a squad beyond the walled-in human safe zone. They’ve been sent for medical supplies and it’s the first time she, boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) and friend Nora (Analeigh Tipton) have been out on a mission together. R and his zombies attack while the squad is searching through an abandoned lab. R snacks on some brains, but then he sees Julie. He shuffles over to her, but, instead of biting her, he saves her. He smears a little zombie blood on her to cover her scent and sneaks her back to his hideaway — a hipster tchotchke-filled airplane. He has records, an old view-finder, books. He’s, you know, cultured. And, the longer he’s with Julie, the more he’s able to say — choking out that she’ll be safe with him and that she needs to stay a few days until the coast is clear.
Julie is understandably wary of R (who can only remember that that is the letter he thinks his name started with). But as they hang out, he starts to change — their first meeting caused a beat of his long silent heart — and as he feels more emotions for Julie, he starts to feel things physically as well. Julie sees this change in R, but she doesn’t think her dad, Grigio (John Malkovich), the leader of the army, will believe that zombies can change.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that this is a love story between a girl named Julie and a boy named R who live in a world where, you know, civil blood makes civil hands unclean and all that. But rather than feeling like you’re watching a nift Seth Grahame-Smith parlor trick (add “zombies” to anything you read in high school: The Great Gatsby and the Zombies, Tale of Two Cities Infected by Zombies — which, now that you mention it, sounds like a much more entertaining book), Warm Bodies feels like a sweet, smart homage, both to Romeo and Juliet and the zombie genre that’s grown so much lately. It runs on familiar zombie rules but gives us this new landscape from the zombie’s point of view and does it with a smart mix of comedy and teenage-y angst. It also pulls off the impressive trick of making R zombie-ish-enough while also allowing him to be, you know, cute. Hoult, who (get ready to feel old) played the boy in 2002’s About a Boy, does a good job of balancing the comedy, the monster movie action and the big-eyed “in lurve” stuff. He has good, or at least good-enough, chemistry with Palmer — who reminded me vaguely of Kristen Stewart but is far less of a sourpuss.
With its head shooting, flesh biting and “how do I know if I really like him,” Warm Bodies is a nice genre mash that makes for a good Valentine’s Day movie. B
Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language. Screenplay by and directed by Jonathan Levine (from the novel by Isaac Marion), Warm Bodies is an hour and 37 minutes long and distributed in wide release.