Monday, February 4, 2013

Warm Bodies

Wrought from the pre-packaged clutches of the teen-lit market informed by The Twilight Saga comes Warm Bodies, a slight, but pleasing riff on the bad boy/good girl template.  In this setting, vampires are replaced by zombies as the misunderstood creatures of the underworld, and posits a star-crossed romance between undead and very much alive-- to make things easier to digest, both parties are portrayed in awfully pretty human form.  And while a cynic may recoil that such a film may only come to be due to the billion dollar Twilight fortune, writer-director Jonathon Levine, of 50/50 and The Wackness fame, has fashioned a fairly witty and affectionate little oddity that transcends mere clone status, as the films best moments matches the well-traveled metaphor of adolescent arrested development as apocalyptic nightmare with sensitivity and visual astuteness.  Warm Bodies, with its wink-wink self awareness, unapologetic filing of genre past is mostly good-humored and blessedly not as self-serious as it could have been is sort of a girly, twirly version of the Walking Dead, but one that meets Nicholas Sparks. with a dash of John Hughes spliced in, and while hardly original (it's based on the novel by Isaac Marion), there's a dash of a pulse and slight affection for this undead variant of Romeo & Juliet.

Set in an indiscriminate time and place, we meet R (Nicholas Hoult), a strangely articulate and thoughtfully minded young zombie-- he wanders aimlessly alongside his like-minded stragglers, at an abandoned airport.  And while he speaks nothing but in vague gestures and grunts, there's something different about him than the zombies of the George Romero universe.  He thinks, he wishes, he pines-- he's also hungry, but the consuming of human flesh and brains conflicts him.  And while as the films narrator, he's particularly unreliable-- unable to recall what events lead to his present day ennui-- he can't remember his human past, nor even his name (he thinks it starts with a R), he's our undead hero, and a striking notch above the lifeless Edward, what with his vacant stares and sparkling skin.  The one point that Warm Bodies digs into, fairly on the nose, is R's humanity, and that even in monster form, he's really just a variation of the outsider-- the depressed goth punk kid that has trouble fitting in.

Things start to change when during a routine raid for human brains, R meets Julie (Teresa Palmer), a pretty and spunky blonde human avenger.  The moment may have been cuddlier, had it not been offset by R's slaughtering of Julie's boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), whose brain gives him memories and the highest spark of life for R.  Because those memories are perfectly ripe for young love, and nicely calibrated by Levine's pop styling, R chooses to save Julie, in the hopes that she will see past the whole undead thing and stuff like that.  Things are a little more challenging considering he ate her boyfriend's brain, but the mechanics of young love work in mysterious ways, and the film decides that they and by extension all of us, can just move on from such things.  What does work is the artful little montages that frame the budding relationship between R and Julie-- as she gets closer to him, he starts to be just a bit more human after all.  His speech and movement improve-- he given gets a lone heartbeat.  Warm Bodies supposes that the cure to it all is but love and affection.

Just when one suspects the film may succumb to saccharine, there's a greater battle ahead for and because of R and Julie's romance.  As in almost all of teen-lit, genre pop-- our lovers can't just sail onto the sunset.  It turns that the true villains of Warm Bodies aren't the lifeless zombies that wander about, but an even more lethal zombie specimen, comprised of older zombies left to root in the form of their own skeletons.  The revolution, a small affair even by made-on-the-cheap genre film standards, bring the humans and "cured" zombies together in the hopes of a strangely utopian future.  The plot straggles around a bit too much, especially as it gears closer to its slightly ungainly conclusion, but even with its seeming rules-made-up-on-the-spot structure, the leads make an appealing duo.  Hoult, all grown from About a Boy, is an attractive fit with Palmer, and both tackle with sometimes wooden dialogue with an irony that makes Warm Bodies just about, well, a warm diversion.  B

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