Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Jonathan Levine
Featuring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, David Franco
If anything is to be gleaned from Jonathan Levine's Warm Bodies, it's that looking good and having a record collection can get you out of a lot of trouble.
Drawing on the influx of tales of forbidden love by way of Twilight and Romeo and Juliet, Warm Bodies aims to be the post-apocalypse rom-com version of both. It flits through different tones and themes like a magpie with ADD, creating a frantic quality to the film which is almost impressive seeing as it drags its feet throughout the entire plot. And as the title suggests, Warm Bodies gets warm but never manages to generate any heat.
This is practically problematic as Levine's previous effort in genre film was the little-seen but much love pseudo-slasher All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which languished in distribution hell and only saw the light of a theater overseas. It's not that a zombie-romantic comedy can't work (see Shaun of the Dead) or that a post-apocalypse romantic comedy can't work (see Wall-E), but Warm Bodies never truly tackles the emotional core of either of these situations. Levine adds style and flare throughout the film but never manages to gain any traction. It's a poorly paced and plotted film whose only saving grace is the performances upon which it relies too heavily.
Several years after the zombie outbreak, R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie spending his days wandering around an abandoned airport while the remnants of humanity, led by Grigio (John Malkovich), live behind a wall at the city's center. Via voiceover, R tells us not what happened during the outbreak, but what life is like now. All zombies have a bit of humanity left in them. For instance, R has a penchant for collecting vinyl and playing Melissa Etheridge at volume 11. He sees Julie (Teresa Palmer), Grigio's daughter, while she's on a supplies mission, eats her boyfriend and there a love story begins. R keeps Julie safe at the airport. As his feelings for her develop, his heart starts to beat and this spreads to the other zombies. This is all well and good except for the Bonies, who are zombies that have lost their shred of humanity and are now eating and killing machines. The Bonies also comprise some of the worst CGI this side of 1997.
At its core, Warm Bodies is a love story that should be a lot more grizzly and dark than it is. Seeing as the film is based on the book by Isaac Marion, which belongs next to the Twilight series on any bookshelf, the film doesn't seem to deviate much from its published incarnation. With R's endless voiceovers we're included in every feeling and impulse he has. Julie is simply perfect because we're never told otherwise. R is a sensitive misunderstood zombie who's getting better. We know this because outside of his voiceovers, which comprise about 50% of the film, he manages to grunt out words and string together sentences with all the emotional resonance that ADR can offer.
Ultimately, Warm Bodies wants to be about the power of love overcoming obstacles and prejudice, but the film is too tarted up to go for the core of what that means. It is ultimately more interested in stuffing itself with hit indie songs and oddly chosen classic rock hits than tackling what it means to fall in love as the world ends.
While Warm Bodies is a largely inoffensive meditation on young love, one that is good for whiling away 90 minutes in a darkened theater, it lacks the brains and bite of a truly unforgettable and powerful story.