So, after a lukewarm Super Bowl (if it ain't the Giants or the Packers, I don't care), here's my review of the film I saw Saturday afternoon.
Warm Bodies (2013)
Warm Bodies is hardly a great film, but for a Super Bowl weekend release just two weeks from Valentine's Day, you'd be hard-pressed to do much better. It's got a sweet setup, great chemistry between its leads, and a refreshing take on a tired genre that press its flaws into the background long enough that you can mostly ignore them and feel the love.
Based on the novel by Isaac Marion (which I have yet to read), Warm Bodies takes place several years into the zombie apocalypse. R (Nicholas Hoult) is one of the many walking dead, retaining only the faintest memory of his human life, hanging out with another zombie named M (Rob Corddry) at the airport. (They occasionally almost speak, and even get out words once in a while.) One day, a survivor party looking for medicine goes tragically awry, and R digs into the brains of one of the groups members, absorbing his emotions and reigniting... something in him. Quickly, he falls for the guy's still-living girlfriend Julie Grigio (Teresa Palmer), rescuing her rather than making her his dessert. R's affection for Julie is witnessed by the other zombies, emotion soon spreading like a (ahem) virus through the undead population, in a move that may well mark the beginning of a most unusual end for the zombie apocalypse.
Yeah, it's corny. Yes, you can probably spot the Romeo & Juliet references in the characters' names from a mile away. Between that plot description and the film's teen-friendly PG-13 rating, it sounds like a Hallmark version of Dawn of the Dead meets Twilight. But if The Hunger Games taught us anything, it's that teen movies don't have to be dribbling garbage. Seeing this only makes me loathe Twilight that much more for lowering the standards for teen-oriented "genre" fiction. Most of what makes this film work is the chemistry between Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, who shine in this movie. While I found that there were a couple of moments where their acting was "off", more often than not they were great, ably selling the preposterous romance between a human and a zombie. It was in their scenes together where this film was the strongest. Rob Corddry also sells the zombie friend M with only a few lines of dialogue, serving as a foil to R back at the airport. Him leading the zombie horde to the tune of "Rock You Like a Hurricane" was one of the most "hell yeah!" moments in the film. Speaking of, the music in this film, composed largely of classic rock tunes, made me want to go out and look for the soundtrack CD. It was amazing, and often perfectly suited for the moment at hand. (Though maybe it's just the Jersey boy in me who screams out in joy whenever he hears Bruce Springsteen.)
It was in the subplot related to the "bonies" that the film started to drag. Bonies are, in this film's universe, zombies who have lost all trace of their humanity, including their skin. To paraphrase R's description of them, the difference between a bony and a "normal" zombie is that bonies don't feel conflicted. The special effects used to create them looked cool, but they felt like an attempt to shoehorn a "traditional" zombie fight into the movie. This could have worked had the film been rated R, but as it stands, the PG-13 violence featuring them comes off as toothless. I just was not all that interested when they showed up on screen. I was also disappointed by the fact that John Malkovich's role as the survivors' leader seemed to amount to a glorified cameo. His only appearance in the first half of the film is in flashback and on a giant video screen, which is a shame, because I loved the moments where he was on screen. There should've been less of the bonies and more of Malkovich.
Score: 3 out of 5
A lightweight, inoffensive zombie comedy that you probably won't remember come next February, but which is certainly one to check out on a date.