Zombies are everywhere these days. With AMC’s The Walking Dead as popular as ever and a large budget World War Z starring Brad Pitt just around the corner, one begins to wonder just how much more Hollywood can milk this phenomenon before people tire of it and we move on to the next mythical monster revival. Is there a way to keep the sub-genre fresh and exciting enough to warrant our attention? Jonathan Levine (50/50) has thrown his hat in the ring by adapting a novel by Isaac Marion and making a zombie love story homage to Romeo and Juliet.
Nicholas Hoult stars here as R, a self-aware zombie who who still has some attachments to his human existence, although he can’t remember his past, or even his name. He is friends with M (Rob Corddry), sort of, although they only communicate by the occasional grunt. We are also introduced to “Bonies,” who are zombies that have ripped off all of their flesh, and with it any humanity they once had. Even the zombies fear the bonies, especially knowing that it is inevitable they will soon be among them.
Teresa Palmer plays Julie, the daughter of Grigio (John Malkovich), the leader of the surviving humans. While searching for medical supplies outside of their secured compound, Julie and her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) are attacked by a horde of zombies, including R and M. R attacks and kills Perry, immediately eating his brains. It is explained that by doing so, R takes on the memories of Perry, and his love for Julie. R then grabs and runs off with Julie, protecting her from the other zombies, and takes her to his own private compound which is inside a jet at the airport where most of the zombies hang out. R has gathered a lot of music on vinyl (“It sounds alive”),and Julie starts to see that R is more human than zombie. Naturally, she begins to fall for this dark, mysterious stranger.
I have to admit I feel silly even trying to describe the plot and premise of this film as it is incredibly stupid and really doesn’t make any sense. The zombies are dead, but Julie is convinced they can find a “cure.” I won’t spoil whether or not a cure is found, but if you can’t figure out what it might be from what you’ve heard so far, you’ve probably never seen a romantic comedy before. While it is a very well known story, it is still much too predictable. While it is a zombie movie, it is still much too unbelievable.
However, there is also a lot here that works. Yes, the story is very bland and recycled, but Levine does a great job of giving it life by making it smart and funny. R and Julie actually do have really good chemistry and the romance between them is sweet and heartfelt in ways that seems impossible without actually seeing it pulled off. The dialogue (Yes, the zombies slowly regain the ability to speak after their exposure to Julie) is clever and does a great job in bringing some believability to such an odd premise.
While the zombies plod around and grunt halfheartedly like somebody who took a few too many pain pills, the bonies add a real sense of fear by being ravenous creatures who even make the zombies run from them. The CGI of the bonies is also excellent and pretty seamless. While this is much more of a romance film than an action film, the action is also very good here.
I have to say that while the premise and predictable plot scream to me that I should abhor this film, it is somehow entirely enjoyable. Hoult shines in his first attempt to carry a film as an adult (He outshined Hugh Grant in About A Boy as a child). He is funny and charming even as a zombie, which is certainly no easy task. Another big plus in the film is Corddry, who has good comedic chemistry with Hoult and really helps humanize the zombies in ways they certainly never have been before. Teresa Palmer is also very capable here, and Analeigh Tipton is great as Julie’s friend Nora. While definitely lacking the depth of Levine’s previous film 50/50, he manages to make a very entertaining film despite a very gimmicky and clunky premise.
Conclusion [7.5 out of 10]
If you are able to completely turn off your brain, Warm Bodies is a very funny and charming romantic comedy that is entirely enjoyable. If you need a movie to make sense, even in the universe it is presented in, then this probably isn’t for you. But come on, it’s a zombie-themed comedic recreation of Romeo and Juliet. What more could you possible expect?