WARM BODIES-- 3 STARS
Movies, like any other entertainment form, have their hot trends and periods of fads and gimmicks. With action movies, superheroes are in right now. With comedies, the R-rated gags and in at the moment. For the horror movie genre, the latest trend seems to be a two-headed monster between either paranormal occurrences and zombies. You know you've reached fad status when your movies get spoofed, like the recent A Haunted House taking shots at the Paranormal Activity franchise and pretenders.
While paranormal plots probably get the most play, the zombie half of this latest horror period of fad gets the bigger stage, thanks to its highly successful spread from the silver screen (28 Days Later and the modernized remakes of George Romero classics like Dawn of the Dead and The Crazies), to the small screen, trumpeted by the immense popularity of AMC's The Walking Dead on cable television. It will likely reach its peak this summer when zombies elevate from token horror movie offerings to being the centerpiece of a big budget summer blockbuster, director Marc Foster's World War Z starring Brad Pitt. The movie opens June 21, right on the heels of Man of Steel, and gets its own big Super Bowl spot this weekend. World War Z will be the largest litmus test to see just how big and popular the zombie fad has become.
In the meantime, 50/50 director Jonathan Levine seeks to bend the fad a little with Warm Bodies, an easily entertaining film that puts zombies and romance together in an unlikely, yet fun, way. Stripping away most of the ridiculous violence and scares normally associated with (appropriately) mindless zombie flicks, Levine and company dare to craft something unique. Not all of what they attempt clicks or works 100% of the time, but Warm Bodies is like nothing else you will see in the romantic or zombie genres.
The post-apocalyptic film is narrated from the point-of-view of a former 20-something hoodied slacker who is now among the many walking dead. "R" (Nicholas Hoult, soon to be seen again in Jack the Giant Slayer), as he comes to be called, can't remember his name but trudges around the abandoned airport with his fellow zombies, like ex-family man "M" (Hot Tub Time Machine's Rob Corddry) who he grunts wannabe conversations with, wishing there was more to his life... err... afterlife. The worst among them are the "bonies," deadly zombies overcome by their hunger and have lost most of their former human form. At the end of each day, R retreats to an empty airliner where his Wall-E-like hoarder nature makes him a collector of old vinyl and trinkets of all sorts and sizes.
Within the walled city center where the living civilization remains, Colonel Grigio (two-time Oscar nominee John Malkovich) leads the survivors and human resistance. His dedicated daughter Julie (Theresa Palmer of The Sorcerer's Apprentice) is one of his most promising followers. While leading an armed supply scouting run on the other side of the wall with her ex-boyfriend Perry (21 Jump Street's Dave Franco) and bestie Nora (Crazy, Stupid, Love.'s Analeigh Tipton), they run into R and his hungry friends out for brains. Upon spotting Julie, the instantly-smitten R spares her life during the attack and leads her away from danger to his airliner digs.
While spending few days together out of harm's way, the two begin to click and the shades of Shakespeare start to come out. R continuously protects Julie and begins to feel different on the inside. At the same time, Julie begins to see something different about this particular zombie and sees the change going on. As it turns out, a little love and affection is slowly "curing" R (and a few of his friends) of their lifelessness. Nevertheless, there affection is unheard of and forbidden. What does this mean for potential romance? What does this mean for the population and future survival? Those are the twists offered by Warm Bodies.
X-Men: First Class's Nicholas Hoult, that former little boy from Hugh Grant's About a Boy from 11 years ago, gives off a ton of charisma while trapped behind great makeup and near word-less physical acting. The keen voiceover gives us the humor and insight into his character and where romance is taking him. It's not riveting Nicholas Sparks longing or laugh-out loud funny, but I'll take R and Warm Bodies to woodenly emotive sparkly vampires and werewolves. Palmer, despite a dash of Kristen Stewart brow-furrowing, is a dreamy enough Hitchcock blonde for him to target. Malkovich surprisingly plays it straight instead of his Red eccentricness for this sort of thing. The normally riotous Rob Corddry also plays it straight and steals scenes left and right.
As I mentioned earlier, not all of the curveballs and uniqueness works. Technically speaking, this a step down for 50/50 director Jonathan Levine after crafting that outstanding 2011 dramedy (my full review) on cancer starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogan. That film was my #2 movie of 2011. Warm Bodies isn't close to that, nor was it designed to be. While cute, English teachers are going to hate its broad strokes on Romeo and Juliet. Warm Bodies also gets to the point where it bites off more than it can chew by climaxing into a middling action movie mode.
However, what Warm Bodies does try with romance and humor is a really nice job. As uneven as it eventually turns out with its low risks of comedy and romance, you can't help but get a kick out of the movie's charm to put love into an unlikely setting and subject. It's a perfect date movie for the anti-Twilight teen and MTV crowd that still has enough meat for the rest of mature folk to bite into.
LESSON #1: ZOMBIES ARE PEOPLE TOO-- Contrary to popular movie belief that zombies, while they may look like humans and maybe even be friends and family members who have turned undead, are not mindless and devoid of the people and personality they used to be. That's a bit of the fun of the domestication twisting Warm Bodies makes with the whole zombie phenomenon. It plays on the whole idea of curing the undead in its own unique way.
LESSON #2: A SWITCHEROO ON THE OLD ADAGE OF BEING "DEAD ON THE INSIDE"-- We've seen the depressing cliche of feeling "dead on the inside" while putting out a front of being successful, happy, or secure. In Warm Bodies, we have the opposite. Our zombies are completely "dead on the outside" instead and look every bit the part. They get to experience the same transformation and self-improvement that some who's dead on the inside feels, but the other way around.
LESSON #3: THE LIFE-GIVING POWER OF LOVE-- Since R loves his 80's music and eclectic vinyl, let's give Huey Lewis some credit and bring some music reference to this final lesson. As Huey crooned, the power of love can do a lot of things. In Warm Bodies's case, the power of love can turn a dead, brain-eating zombie back to the alive, hoodie-wearing cutie he was before. While real life doesn't have this specific of a predicament or long of a gap of lfe, love really can brighten, empower, and give life to the seemingly lifeless. It's the world's greatest cure to a whole list of things. The Beatles were right too. All you need is love.