Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Warm Bodies"

 2.5 / 5 

Warm Bodies is a fitfully entertaining trifle, a riff on the kinds of big-budget monster-mashups that have proven so popular with audiences, combining The Walking Dead with Twilight in a way that could have been funnier if the filmmakers had taken the all-out spoof approach.

Instead, they're semi-serious, giving us a hero (Nicholas Hoult) who delivers rapid-fire narration of his thoughts but otherwise can barely grunt and shuffle along, being as undead as he is.  He doesn't remember his name, but is pretty sure it began with an "R," and that's about the funniest the jokes get here, folks -- the writers were clearly more amused with themselves than the audience is.

"R" spends his undead days and nights roaming around an airport that looks vaguely European, because it's Montreal, though the film never specifies where it's set -- it's one big, anonymous city that some time in the past was decimated by a rapidly spreading plague that turned most people into zombies.

The fact that we even notice the not-quite-American airport and try to read the signs, looking for clues where this might be taking place, indicates that Warm Bodies isn't successful in holding our attention with the story alone.  Maybe, like so many other zombie movies, part of the problem is that zombies just sort of stand there not doing much, certainly not saying much, which rather limits the opportunity for comedy.  So, give some props to Hoult (no, he's not at all the same strange little kid from About a Boy) for doing what he can to make "R" engaging within some rather serious constraints.

Miles away from the airport is the city's walled-off center, now an enclave for the last remaining humans, who don't know whether they are the last Americans or the last people, period.  They're assuming the latter and taking no chances under the leadership of their justifiably paranoid leader (John Malkovich), who recruits able-bodied teens for missions beyond the wall when supplies like medicine are running low.

In the latest group is the leader's daughter Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco, James's lookalike brother).  On their mission, they're accosted by some wayward airport zombies who got bored and decided to head for the action of the city -- one of the film's conceits is that zombies still maintain a tiny bit of buried humanity, an idea you'll either roll with or you won't.  After a scuffle, "R" attacks Perry and eats his brain in a polite, PG-13 kind of way, absorbing his memories, which means he immediately falls in love with Julie.

"R" manages to get Julie back to the airport and perform some tentative, teenage-zombie-in-love moves on her, but naturally she's none too thrilled about the idea of making out with a guy whose tongue tastes like her dead boyfriend's brains.  Will these two kids from different worlds find a way to make the relationship work?  Might that little glimpse into a zombie's empty soul mean there's hope for "R"?

Warm Bodies is a genial attempt to be a bit more intelligent about teenage romance than Twilight, but it's still hard to care much about a zombie and the girl he kidnaped.  The young leads make a good effort, but they don't generate a lot of chemistry, and a subplot involving a race of super zombies is a half-hearted attempt to create tension.

Warm Bodies will amuse uncritical audiences, but its desire to stay wryly sweet and keep the focus on lighthearted rom-com doesn't fully work.  These undead corpses who munch on living human flesh and can only be killed by a bullet to the brain really don't make very good boyfriends.

Viewed Feb. 2, 2013 -- ArcLight Hollywood


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