This love story needs more bite
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, February 1, 2013
Cute without being especially clever, “Warm Bodies” is almost as pallid and as brain-dead as its zombie antihero (Nicholas Hoult), a flesh-eating, foot-dragging teenage corpse known as R who falls in love with a living human named Julie (Teresa Palmer), despite their obvious differences.
It’s less funny and self-aware than “Shawn of the Dead,” less swooningly romantic than “Twilight” (to which it bears strong similarities) and less scary than pretty much anything else out there with zombies in it. Fans of “The Walking Dead” can keep moving; there’s nothing to see here.
This last part is true despite the addition of critters known as “bonies.” Essentially zombies who have wasted away to skeletons, they’re the film’s real bad guys, but the CGI animation is so stiff and, ironically, unlifelike that they look like ghouls from a third-rate video game. The zombies themselves are more like something out of a Halloween party than a horror movie.
The premise of “Warm Bodies” (based on the young adult novel by Isaac Marion) sounds good, at least on paper. Loosely inspired by “Romeo and Juliet” -- R and Julie, get it? -- the story centers on the incongruity of a romance between enemies. Julie is the daughter of Grigio (John Malkovich), the leader of a group of human survivors of some unspecified plague that has turned the rest of the world into cannibalistic cadavers. And R eats people.
I give the relationship three months, tops.
After killing and eating Julie’s boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), R starts to take a fancy to her. Part of the mythology of “Warm Bodies” is that zombies take on the memories of their victims after eating their brains. But if that’s so, why isn’t R walking around with the voices of everyone he has ever eaten, and not just Perry’s, rattling around in his head? It doesn’t make much sense.
Neither does Julie’s eventual attraction to R. Despite looking like a wino (and presumably smelling like a slaughterhouse), the boy gains favor with her, first by saving her life and then by hiding her from his zombie friends. Never mind that he just killed and ate her main squeeze’s cerebellum like sushi. The movie glosses over this little detail, albeit unconvincingly.
There’s real potential here. The set-up is perfect to comment on the awkwardness of adolescent infatuation. “Don’t be a creep, don’t be a creep, don’t be a creep,” R says to himself as he stares like a, well, zombie at her. But for the most part, the movie, like its undead protagonist, doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself, or how to take advantage of the story’s quirky potential. Instead, it relies on stale rom-com tropes. There’s even a falling-in-love montage, in which R and Julie entertain each other, wackily of course, by trying on different pairs of sunglasses.
Wait a minute, what?
Other wasted opportunities include Rob Corddry as R’s zombie friend, M. (The joke is that neither one can remember his entire first name, but it’s a tepid one.) The creator and star of “Children’s Hospital” is given no chance to exhibit any of the dark humor he exhibits on that television show.
The whole “Romeo and Juliet” thing doesn’t go much of anywhere either. That tale ended badly and this one is a teen comedy. As R spends more and more time with Julie, he begins to come back to life a little, suggesting that it’s love that makes us human and gives us a reason to live.
That’s nice, if not exactly new.
“Warm Bodies” isn’t exactly DOA, but its pulse is weak.
Contains mild zombie violence, light gore and occasional obscenity.