Friday, February 1, 2013

Warm Bodies Review: A spin on the "zombie comedy" that doesn't quite work despite an original premise

Dir. Jonathan Levine
97 Minutes
Rated PG-13

Warm Bodies is an adaptation of Isaac Marion's novel of the same name, a romantic zombie comedy directed by Jonathan Levine (director of 50/50, one of my favorite movies of 2011).  The story follows a zombie named "R" (Nicholas Hoult) who shuffles around all day, only able to express himself through grunts and moans to his zombie friend "M" (Rob Corddry).  We hear his thoughts via voiceover narration, which lets us into his somber, lost life (it's a pretty obvious parable for adolescence).  When setting upon a group of humans, he inexplicably saves one because he falls in love at first sight with her.  What follows is a Beauty and the Beast style romance that forms between the two, which can be sweet thanks to the two leads, but the film too often retreats into convention and lacks the "oomph" other entries into this sub-subgenre have offered.

As a complete nerd of the zombie genre, I couldn't help that it was painful for me to see the liberties taken with the mythology.  With zombies "changing" back to humans, the addition of zombies absorbing the memories of the brains they eat, and the fact that R gains the ability to talk, I just couldn't get into this more fantastical, almost "quirky" version of the apocalypse. I know that this is its own thing and shouldn't have to align with any other mythology, but even within its own world it breaks the rules.  For example, an early scene in the film clearly has R explaining how slow his undead brethren are, but halfway through the movie nearly every zombie seemed to have gained the ability to run.  I know it's a comedy, but there should be an internal logic.

The humans have retreated into a walled off portion of the city, led by General Grigio (John Malkovich), who has a special hatred for the walking dead.  His daughter, Julie (Teresa Palmer, looking eerily like Kristen Stewart), is the one who falls for R of course, making things complicated.  The movie never really goes anywhere with this conflict, resolving it before taking it to unmarked territory.  There was so much room to play with these interesting kind of "Romeo and Juliet" aspects, but unlike King Kong, another "woman and beast" movie, it doesn't end in a way as to create a discussion or provide human insights; once you peel back the originality of a zombie romance, this movie is predictable and doesn't offer much.

You really feel the PG-13 here; I didn't get the sense of danger that a zombie apocalypse should have, and the addition of "skeletons" really cheapened the whole thing (they were basically zombies who had gone "too far" to be cured, giving the film distinct "bad guys").  I wanted to like this movie, and there was a lot of promise in the romance (that felt similar to WALL-E), but it just falls flat.  Other zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland are not only funnier and more well-written than Warm Bodies, but they also stayed truer to the mythology.  I did like how Levine and co. tried to put their own unique stamp on the genre however, even though it didn't work.  Casual zombie fans and those out for a date night may find this to be inoffensive light entertainment, but for me this had too few laughs, too little plot, and just exemplifies how sometimes even the best intentions don't make for a great film.

Rating: C

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