Zombies, for all intents and purposes, are a predictable bunch. They slowly drag their lifeless bodies around their post-apocalyptic environment, feasting on brains or any bit of human flesh they can find. They can be outsmarted, that's for sure, since they have pretty basic, animalistic instincts to feed, but not much going on upstairs. Ironically, the only way to kill most zombies is to destroy their brain, you know, the one part of their corpse that doesn't seem to be functioning in the first place.
In the new film, Warm Bodies, we finally get inside the head of a zombie. His name is simply R (Nicholas Hoult), because he remembers that his name starts with that letter, but can't quite seem to recall what it was. Through voice-over, we learn that - this zombie at least - has thoughts and ponders his existence and that of other zombies that he encounters. He even has a "friend," played by Rob Corddry, a fellow zombie whom R sits next to once in a while and they grunt and stare at each other in what passes for zombie comradery. R also gives us some insight on how he only reluctantly eats humans. They must eat in order to survive, less they evolve (devolve?) into a "boney," which is basically a zombie that has gone skeletal and has no remorse or thought whatsoever...you know, the traditional definition of "zombie."
This first 15 minutes or so of Warm Bodies are the film's strongest, but the story quickly crumbles into a scattered mess of thoughts and ideas based around this somewhat promising premise. Writer/Director Jonathan Levine - whose last film 50/50 was my absolute favorite of 2011 - doesn't quite know where to take this clever idea over the course of the 97 minute film. 50/50 was another optimistic story, about taking and living life to the fullest, and similar themes come through in Warm Bodies.
When a group of survivors set out on a mission to get some medications from an abandoned pharmacy to bring back to their small militant community (led by John Malkovich, who one suspects has spent some time in a bomb shelter), R is on the attack. But instantly he locks eyes with one of them - a young hottie named Julie (Teresa Palmer) - and something...changes. Yes, he still goes on to eat the brains of her boyfriend, but he then shields her from the other zombies and whisks her away. R is in love.
If there was ever a young actress in Hollywood who could bring someone back from the dead, it's the beautiful Teresa Palmer. Well played, casting director.
Any film - but particularly sci-fi, fantasy or horror films - rely on a certain amount of suspended belief from the audience. A movie gives us rules in which their characters live by and all we ask in return is that the characters inhabiting the movie live by these established rules. When there are inconsistencies though, we pick up on them and it tears away at the film's believability and authenticity. In Warm Bodies for example, R complains at how slow his pack of zombies move since they are always just shuffling along. Fair enough, right? Then why, a few scenes later, do we see other zombies running at full speed? The zombies can smell their human prey, but by dabbing a small amount of blood on Julie's cheek, she is able to walk amongst them unnoticed (more believably, this same trick works on AMC's The Walking Dead, but they need to be absolutely covered in decay in order to fool the undead).
The inconsistencies only grow more inconceivable and laughable - not in a good way - as the film goes on. It begins as a comedy, slowly turns in to a teen romance and by the end we are watching a full-scale post-apocalyptic action movie. It doesn't really know what it wants to be, or what it is, much like its protagonist.
Zombies have long stood as metaphors for our own society and although Levine flips the script on the genre, there are several flimsy messages he attempts to communicate. Love and acceptance, the film seems to say, is the only working "cure." Sure there are those beyond hope who are consumed with hate (the boneys) but if we all just put our difference aside, our hearts will grow not unlike the Christmas Grinch.
Warm Bodies presents an inspired premise that ended up being devoured by the restraints of the genre. It ended up being not very funny, feeling not very inspired and not all that memorable. Even hard-core zombie fanatics will be disappointed by the lack of gore and violence, a staple of any good zombie tale. Everything is just watered down until all potency is evaporated.
Warm Bodies doesn't quite gnaw at your brain, proving zombies are a dish best served cold.
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich
Based on the novel by Isaac Marion
Written & Directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness)
Opens locally on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time