Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, and John Malkovich
Reviewed by: Sean Daly
“I can’t remember my job, although my hoodie would suggest I’m unemployed,” hilariously opines R (Nicholas Hoult) a zombie longing for a meaningful existence in the wildly entertaining Warm Bodies, the 2013 zombie-human romance recent to home video. Warm Bodies, the fourth feature written and directed by rising star Jonathan Levine (50/50), is filled with numerous other witty lines, many of which take place during walking dead R’s ongoing, lively inner-dialogue.
R desperately wants to connect with others in a United States overrun with fellow zombies and their more hardcore counterparts, the Bonies. Rob Corddry plays fellow zombie M, R’s best friend but, as R explains, “by best friend, I mean we occasionally grunt and stare at each other.” R feels even less common ground with the Bonies, who, he says, “will eat anything with a heartbeat. I will, too, but at least I’m conflicted about it.” Zombies are not supposed to feel but we know R does, as further evidenced when he plays John Waite’s Missing You on his record player.
The zombies are separated from the living by a fortress. The first people we meet are young couple Julie (Teresa Palmer) and Perry (Dave Franco). Julie’s father is General Grigio (a disinterested John Malkovich), the man in charge of hunting and killing zombies before they can feast on the living. For Perry and Grigio, the battle is personal; for Julie, it seems senseless. Sure, you can see where this is all headed but it’s a fun ride nonetheless.
One night, R, M, and their fellow zombies pack together to hunt the living only to run into Julie, Perry, and the rest of their zombie killing crew. A battle ensues and R ends up eating the brain of Perry, an act that provides zombies with access to their victim’s memories (well, you probably didn’t see that coming). For R, that means past visions of the beautiful Julie, whom he not only spares but also falls for. (We know this because of his widened zombie eyes and that Missing You starts playing in his head even when she’s attempting to shoot him.) R brings Julie to the airplane in which he lives under the guise of keeping her safe. Of course, what this really amounts to is an awkward first date, much of which plays out over a montage set to Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart. Julie, intrigued but not yet smitten, expresses her desire to return home but not so much she doesn’t put giving R a driving lesson over simply escaping in the car which is, admittedly, a gaping plot hole.
Soon thereafter, the other zombies, led by M, become suspicious, cornering an escaping Julie in the airport terminal. R shocks them by saving his would-be-living-girlfriend, only for the dreaded Bonies to launch an attack. M has a change of heart and saves the day for his best friend, who triggers feeling within him and the other zombies by holding Julie’s hand. The dead suddenly have a pulse.
R and Julie bond further until he confesses to eating her boyfriend’s brain. A heartbroken R returns to his zombie world, where he is met by the sympathetic M (“bitches, man”) and fellow zombies. Realizing they all can now feel, they slowly march in unison for a showdown with the vile Bonies in an attempt to change their fate as the Scorpions’ Rock You Like a Hurricane pumps out.
R and Julie reunite, with her and best friend Nora (Analeigh Tipton) giving him a passing makeover set to Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman before attempting to convince her close-minded father that the zombies are changing. Naturally, they fail miserably, with R and Julie forced to run away together again. Meanwhile, the zombies and humans join forces to kill off the Bonies, finally convincing even General Grigio that maybe the zombies and his daughter’s new man aren’t so bad after all. Sure, you think you’ve seen this all before but was a zombie involved? I’m guessing not.
The ending, while predictable in large part, works well and even rises to the level of moving despite the film’s farcical elements and premise. Again, while you’ve probably seen the star-crossed lovers plot in hundreds of movies through the years, Levine puts a unique spin on things with excellent dialogue and self-awareness.
Hardcore zombie production fans may be disappointed to find minimal gore. The performances are by and large very good, with the leads fine, and Corddry, best known for raunchy comedy, a revelation in a somewhat dramatic role. The only flaws with the film are a few logic gaps (such as when Julie could easily escape but doesn’t only to try to escape a short time later) and a bit less action and suspense than these types of movies generally possess. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is an excellent mix of familiar Eighties schlock, modern alternative, and some pulsating electronica that tells a story in its own right. I give Warm Bodies two and a half guys.