Save for the excellent AMC show, The Walking Dead, the zombie apocalypse schtick is beginning to wear a bit thin. It’s as overplayed as bacon memes and Carly Rae Jepsen. Writer/Director Jonathan Levine attempts to manipulate the genre into something we haven’t seen before, but ultimately, Warm Bodies leaves you as cold as the undead humans on the screen.
I don’t want to be too harsh on Levine. His idea is fundamentally sound. Unfortunately, his vision is shallow, never realizing its true potential. Warm Bodies dabbles in traditional zombie genre tropes, but never bothers to invest any time in the how’s and why’s of this post-apocalyptic world. It relies heavily on leap of faith plot points to ever be taken seriously, and the characters are one dimensional ripoffs from every uninspiring teen rom-com ever made.
We start out wandering through a desolate airport with R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie who spends his day shuffling and grunting through the mundane landscape lamenting his “new normal.” Throughout his daily travels we are introduced to his best “zombie” friend, M (Rob Corddry) and a sub species of the infected known as the bonies, aptly named for their lack of flesh. At night, R retreats to his home- a jet liner fuselage that he has converted into a sweet bachelor pad complete with action figures and vinyl record albums.
On the other side of the wall that separates the “dead zone” from the living, there is a militia, led by Grigio (John Malkovich), a character burdened by the very cliches he represents and played a bit to bombastically by Malkovich for the light narrative style of the film. Zombie! Zombie! Kill! Kill! You get the point.
When a recon team (including Grigio’s daughter Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) is sent out to look for supplies, they are confronted by a group of zombies, including R. This is the point that Warm Bodies throws all manner of rational story telling out the window and takes liberty with as many conveniences as it can muster. Never mind that for some reason Julie didn’t blow R’s head off when she had a point blank shot. Never mind that she could clearly outrun any of these creatures but allows herself to be “rescued” by R from the horde and taken back to his zombie pad. Never mind that R can now audibly form almost complete sentences. When Julie attempts to escape, she is surrounded by another circling horde of undead, again in need of saving by R, who reminds her that it is still unsafe for her to be wandering outside alone. What to do then? Grab a car from the parking garage and teach a zombie how to drive. Don’t drive away from the airport back to safety, because that would ruin the already shaky plot.
Over the course of a few days, R has become smitten with Julie. We know this because Levine has inserted a clip of R’s heart starting to slowly beat again. On the other hand, Julie now seems at ease around R. This isn’t as large of a stretch as it should be, since real zombie makeup artists apparently weren’t in the budget. What passes for the undead in Warm Bodies would seem little more than sleep depraved, hung over people in most any other flick. As R and his undead brethren start to become progressively more reanimated and civilized, Julie must attempt to convince Grigio that not all of the zombies are a lost cause. You can imagine how that discussion plays out. Lest we not forget though, those nasty bonies are still at large, and they want a word or two with R and Julie, setting up a final confrontation between the living and the dead that will serve to vindicate R and Julie in the eyes of her father. Group hug!
The cast is not an issue. Given what they had to work with I’d say they overachieved. Hoult brought charm and humor to the role of R. His facial expressions and mannerisms hit all of the right notes. For much of the film, Hoult communicates to the audience through voice over, and it’s in these moments that Warm Bodies seems to find most of its comedic voice. Teresa Palmer- looking eerily similar to Kristen Stewart- was enjoyable to watch as Julie. She infused enough heart into the role to somewhat offset the unrealistic position her character fell into. Rob Corddry was far underutilized, but stole every scene he was in. Analeigh Tipton, as Julie’s best friend Nora, also provides some amusing moments.
If it sounds like I’m completely disgusted with Warm Bodies, I’m not. I’m disappointed that Levine chose to take such an easy road with this film. He spends no time exploring the concepts that the movie brings forth. Why are these zombies evolving back towards humanity? Why have the bonies become so aggressive, when a point was made early on that they tend to keep to themselves. We never get a clear understanding about how this plague came to be, or why some were not affected. Warm Bodies is a straight to the point zombie/girl love story with nothing at all to say about the element of human relationships. And this is all very unfortunate since I think the makings of something much better existed somewhere in this story.
In the end, Warm Bodies is a frustrating watch more than a terrible one. It’s untapped potential that’s likely to get more mileage from the teen audience it panders to. This is perfect date night fodder for those not looking for anything groundbreaking. While Warm Bodies attempts to put a twist on the zombie comedy (zom-com?) genre, staples such as Shawn of the Dead and Zombieland need not be concerned that there is a new sheriff in town. At its best, Warm Bodies is cute and mildly entertaining. At other times its eye roll inducing. Warm Bodies ends up just luke warm.
Warm Bodies is out now in US cinemas and is released February 8th in the UK.
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