By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – This romantic dramedy is different: it’s set in the world of zombies.
So, yes, it’s a zom-rom-drom, an unlikely love story about a woman and the zombie who consumed her boyfriend’s brain.
You read that right.
Warm Bodies tells the story of a twenty something corpse known as R, played by Nicholas Hoult, a zombie who, eight years after a zombie epidemic, makes a home in an abandoned airport and wanders around zombie-dominated America, where flesh-eating zombies and humans are separated by a wall that’s patrolled by armed guards.
And where corpses, as zombies are called, feed on the living, while extreme skeletal mutations of latter-stage zombies called “boneys” feed on anything, including corpses.
Yep, it’s a boney-eat-zombie world.
R – which is how he refers to himself because he vaguely recalls that, when he was human, his name began with that letter – eats the brains of a guy named Perry (Dave Franco), who turns out to have been the boyfriend of Julie, a human survivor played by Teresa Palmer.
With a romance between R and Julie, suggesting a Romeo and Juliet parallel – and, yes, there is a balcony involved — R’s brainy consumption allows him to experience Perry’s love for Julie; and to feel it for himself.
She has been sent out from the heavily guarded urban enclave where she lives by her father, General Grigio, played by John Malkovich, the unofficial leader of the uninfected, in search of medical supplies they could use that have been left in abandoned buildings.
R rescues Julie during an attack by the flesh-eating undead, saving her life and then helping her to survive, even though communicating with her is never easy without real words. Grunts and moans just have to do.
That’s also the case when R spends time with his best friend M, played by Rob Corddry. But it’s R who provides us with the helpful and necessary narration, given that zombies can barely speak.
As time goes by, R begins exhibiting behavior that seems to make him more and more human. He craves human flesh and brains, of course, as is the zombie’s wont, but he’s conflicted about it and thus tries instead to exist on his memories of the life that he has long since lost.
When he does consume human brains, though, he relives the lives remembered in those brains, which we get to see via flashbacks.
In order to become human, a zombie must have some recollection of love so that the heart can begin beating. When that happens, speech returns, as does memory, and body temperature increases — hence the title. Consequently, falling in love becomes a distinct possibility.
Writer-director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness) honors all the zombie conventions even while he good-naturedly sends them up. His screenplay, based on the young-adult novel of the same name by Isaac Marion, deftly juggles and mixes humor, mild horror, romance, suspense, and social satire and exploits the metaphoric possibilities inherent in the depiction of the undead. So, yes, the director’s plate is a bit too full, which costs him in the narrative-momentum department. But it is also what makes the film unique.
As much a romance about forbidden teen love as it is a horror thriller or a comedy, Warm Bodies – emphasis on warm — joins 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, Zombieland, and Shaun of the Dead as worthwhile modern dips in the zombie pool.
So we’ll consume 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the romantic zompocalypse comedy-drama, Warm Bodies, a lively movie about a lifeless world that’s brainy in more ways than one.