Yes, zombies again. You’d think our cinematic renaissance of the living dead would have burnt out by now. Yet the craze continues, roughly as resilient as the shambling pale folk who populate Warm Bodies, writer-director Jonathan Levine’s unexpectedly clever spin around well-trod terrain.
Based on a novel by Issac Marion, the film begins with our hero R (he can’t remember more than the first letter of his first name) meandering through a decimated airport alongside a teeming crowd of moaning fellow corpses. Nicholas Hoult (who will make you feel very old when you realize he’s the kid from About a Boy) carries himself with a dead-eyed shuffle and prosthetic rotting flesh, but we’re privy to his thoughts via a quick-witted voice-over narration.
Julie (Teresa Palmer) is part of humanity’s last holdout, so when she and boyfriend Perry (James Franco’s lookalike kid brother Dave) stumble upon R and his buddies, predictably, PG-13 carnage ensues. But it turns out that when you eat somebody’s brains, you end up experiencing all their memories. So while R is busy snacking on Perry’s cerebellum, he’s suddenly flooded with all the poor guy’s wonderful experiences with Julie and immediately falls madly in love with her.
It’s an awkward courtship, to say the least. R doesn’t exactly have a lot of game, given that he’s been dead for awhile. But a strange thing happens as he hangs out with Julie. R stops rotting and starts remembering things. He even manages to get two or three words out in a row. Apparently, love does conquer all. Even zombiehood.
Marion’s book was a riff on Romeo and Juliet (in case the main characters names didn’t tip you off) but it’s easy to read Levine’s adaptation as a devastatingly funny send up of the Twilight phenomenon. I was at a Barnes and Noble recently and saw an entire section devoted to “Teen Paranormal Romance,” and Warm Bodies is at its funniest when digging into the messy details of just how such romances might work, logistically.
Director Jonathan Levine helmed 2011’s Seth Rogen cancer comedy 50/50, as well as 2008’s wonderfully druggy coming of age comedy The Wackness. He’s got a knack for punchy music cues and elicits winning performances from his leads. It’s almost as funny as Breaking Dawn.