MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
With zombie fever spreading across the nation courtesy of AMC's Walking Dead, it was inevitable that a studio would jump on the flesh-eating bandwagon and clone gut-munchers with a Twilight-style storyline to bring in the teen-girl demographic.
Summit Entertainment's release of Warm Bodies this past weekend attempts this unholy alliance but — to my great relief — doesn't go all the way to Twi-tard levels of inanity. It's slight, to be sure, but there's a little more shuffling behind its undead eyes.
Here, we have a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult) who, thanks to his frequent interior monologues, allows us to comprehend that he's quite self-aware, though not really sure how he and his undead companions got into the state they're in. He only knows that he hungers for human brains...and he moves really, really slowly. The only other creature R can make a connection with is another zombie, M
(Rob Corddry), with whom he carries on single-letter conversations with
the occasional complete word thrown in. They spend their days shambling
around an abandoned airport terminal with other undeads, none of whom
possess their talent for conversation.
He can't remember some things (like his full name) but he can recall a time when humans were human (kind of — his flashback shows the airport full of people texting, tweeting, and otherwise engaged on their mobile devices and ignoring each other). When he wants to take a break from it all, he goes to the disused jet on the tarmac outside that he's converted into a private man-cave and passes the time listening to old vinyl records.
One day, he and his crew head out to look for food and run into a band of youthful militia, including Julie (Teresa Palmer), daughter of the tough-as-nails General Grigio (John Malkovich), and her boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco). R is immediately smitten by Julie, and when he consumes the brains of her boyfriend, he is able to experience Perry's memories and falls in love with her by proxy. Rescuing her from his undead kin, he takes her back to his jet and awkwardly starts trying to make her feel the same way he does for her. Mostly, he just stares at her creepily.
As the days go by, she starts to warm to him and he starts to just plain warm up. He decides to share his newfound discovery of "humanness" with his undead brethren, but two things stand in the way: the "Bonies," an army of zombies that have degenerated into nothing but skeletal, hardcore flesh-hunters...and Julie's own father, the corpse-hating Grigio.What are two star-crossed lovers to do?
Writer/director Jonathan Levine, who pushed potential "cancer movie of the week" material into more interesting territory with the Joseph Gordon-Levitt starrer 50/50 achieves much the same here, injecting a potential Twilight-style storyline with darker, twisted wit. I wish it could have been even darker, however, since we're talking about love blooming between a human and a corpse. Levine safely skirts any potential necrophile unpleasantness, i.e., not letting Julie find out that R ate her boyfriend, and even holds off on anything physical until R has safely returned to the land of the living.
Salon's Andrew O'Hehir ripped the movie a new one, pointing out a not-so-subtle Christian conservative theme. Zombies are "unnatural" and only true heterosexual love can bring you back to the real world. I can see that, although I don't know if the filmmakers intentionally set out to deliver that message.
Hoult is fun as R, whose body language changes as his character regains more human physicality. Casting intention or not, Palmer looks so much like a blond Kristen Stewart that it's hilarious. I only know she does the vocal fry a bit too much for my taste. At least she didn't bite her lower lip to indicate angst.
More enjoyable was her smart-ass sidekick Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) who is horrified that her BFF is falling for an undead until she lays eyes on him...and then wants to give him a makeover. Corddry is fine as M (get it — Mercutio?) and Malkovich plays it surprisingly straight as the General, a man indifferent to his daughter's emotions because he's so obsessed with wiping out the undead who killed his wife.
Made on a $30 million budget in Canada, the film features battles between the humans/zombies/Bonies that really don't move the needle past the skeleton fights of Sam Raimi's 1993 Army of Darkness, but they serve their purpose.
It opened at number one with $20 million this past weekend, but it remains to be seen how it will continue to perform. Not swoony enough for the Twilight crowd, it's also too light for those who like their humor more twisted.