Sunday, December 16, 2012

February Returns To The Dumping Grounds With Warm Bodies A Zombie Romeo & Juliet

The Good: Clever idea, Decent acting
The Bad: Mediocre characters, Not as funny as it could be, Concept plays out fast, Very predictable plot
The Basics: Exploiting the current trend in popular culture surrounding zombies, Warm Bodies is a mediocre film that follows an unlikely romance between a woman and the zombie who ate her boyfriend’s brain.

It used to be that February releases were the death knell of a film’s shot at any chance of success. There is a lull in February as Awards Season wraps up, but before the March rush begins with the release of creative, visually-exciting films that will be forgotten well before the next year’s Awards Season. Last year, it appeared that the trend might be fundamentally changed with the release of some quality films, like Safe House (reviewed here!) in February. Alas, it appears that trend is not going to continue: Warm Bodies leads off the return-to-form for February as a film with a creative idea, executed in a mediocre and predictable way that will leave all but the most obsessed genre fans disappointed.

Warm Bodies is not terrible, but it is truly only the fact that zombies have been swapped into the mix that makes the movie even feel remotely fresh. The plot is that of a typical romantic comedy and the elements that trend toward the dramatic lack the gravitas of the Shakespeare they allude to. The film Warm Bodies is based upon a novel by the same name and it bears noting that this is a review solely for the cinematic version. I have no basis for comparison to the novel or how it compares to that.

Some eight years after the zombie apocalypse struck, the last enclaves of humans remain huddled behind defensible barriers – like athletic stadiums – doing whatever they can to survive and eek out an existence that is remotely normal. A zombie who vaguely recalls that his name used to begin with an R, wanders in the airport with other zombies, who – in turn – work to avoid the skeletons that are the desiccated remains of zombies. R and his undead buddy M join a pack of zombies that go out and feed on human brains. R gets the brain of Perry, a generically good looking guy who is in love with Julie. In eating Perry’s brains, R experiences the love Perry had for Julie. Seeing Julie nearby, R is thus lovestruck and rescues her from the hoards of the undead.

After saving Julie’s life, Julie learns to blend in with the zombies and she and R form an unlikely friendship, that R hopes will lead to an actual relationship. Julie and her friend Nora get to know R a little better and protect him from the militant human protector, Julie’s father, General Grigio. As R moves more toward feeling real love and trying to express that to Julie, the human encampment comes under siege by skeletons, putting everyone in danger.

Zombieland (reviewed here!) felt original as a zombie-themed comedy and in Warm Bodies, the humor is stretched way too thin. Unfortunately, the premise is vastly too much for me to buy. I can get the whole youthful desire for love to trump everything, even undeath. The practical aspects of zombie love, whatwith the rotting flesh and the more obvious death and thus more overt sense of necrophilia needed to sell the concept, are just disgusting, but Warm Bodies does what it can to make them seem less gross (though why R’s organ would be in any shape for romance when 1. the skin on his face is so cracked and 2. that particular organ would be of least use to the undead and would, logically, atrophy faster). But all other things being equal, the basic concept flops.

In Warm Bodies the viewer is asked to buy the idea that after eight years and billions of people transformed into undead, mindless husks who feed on brains that: 1. R is the first person to eat the brains of a guy who was in love or 2. R is the first person to eat the brains of a guy in love proximate to the still-living person they loved or 3. Perry’s love for Julie is somehow different from the love that others have felt before. My point in all this is simple: R’s transferred love for Julie is never defined as special or incredible in any way. Just as in Twilight (reviewed here!), viewers have to wrestle with the question of “Seriously, what makes Bella Swan special or interesting to a 100 year-old teenager?! What’s the real attraction here?!,” Warm Bodies begs the question, “If R’s sudden love for Julie is basically a transference based on feeding on Perry’s brains or something like a drug trip, how has this exact circumstance never happened before?”

The sad truth is, the film Warm Bodies does not make it clear why the circumstances are different other than that for the purposes of the plot development, they have to be.

That said, R makes for an interesting narrator and a decent concept protagonist. Getting the young zombie voice allows for some clever and comical internal monologues, even if they become progressively less audacious as the film goes on.

On the acting front, John Malkovich brings nothing to the role of Colonel Grigio that viewers have not seen from him before. Teresa Palmer has fair on-screen chemistry with Nicholas Hoult. For his part, Hoult portrays R with an incredibly realistic (as much as such things as zombie posture may be termed “realistic”) physical performance. R has a distinct body language and Hoult plays him as consistent and inhuman for all the time the part calls for that. It is a very different role from his triumphant performance as Hank McCoy in X-Men: First Class (reviewed here!).

It is, however, Analeigh Tipton who steals the show. Tipton plays Julie’s best friend, Nora, and while the character might be a pretty generic sidekick, Tipton infuses her with charm and great deliveries of some of the movie’s best lines.

But, at the end of the day, Warm Bodies bursts onto the screen like a parody of one of the Twilight films where zombies are substituted for vampires and skeletons take the place of werewolves. While that might appeal to the young adult supernatural romance lit crowd, it’s a harder sell for serious cinephiles.

For other zombie films, please check out my reviews of:
28 Days Later
I Am Legend
Aaah! Zombies


For other film reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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