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"WARM BODIES"
(2013) (Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy/Horror/Romantic Comedy: In a post apocalyptic world, a young woman finds herself strangely drawn to a young zombie who isn't quite like the others.
PLOT:
It's been eight years since a plague killed much of the world's population and turned those victims into zombies. Now, the remaining humans, led by Grigio (JOHN MALKOVICH) and protected by his heavily armed militia, live behind a huge walled city, while the zombies aimlessly and slowly wander about, looking for their latest meal of human flesh and brains. Among them is R (NICHOLAS HOULT) who, like his "friend" M (ROB CORDDRY), lives at a long-deserted airport. While their "conversations" consist of grunting and staring, R has rational thoughts inside his head, and always finds himself conflicted when feeding on a human.

His latest victim is Perry (DAVE FRANCO), a young man sent out with his girlfriend Julie (TERESA PALMER), her friend Nora (ANALEIGH TIPTON), and others on a medical supply run. It turns out a side effect of eating brains is experiencing the memories of the victim, and those in Perry about Julie cause R to save her from being killed by other zombies. He ends up taking her back to an airliner he lives in and which is decorated with various items he's collected over the years. Julie is initially terrified, but eventually realizes he means her no harm and isn't your ordinary zombie.

Spending time with her results in him partially reverting back to human form. That change not only puts both of them at risk from the regular zombies and a more ferocious and quicker moving breed of them known as Boneys, but also Grigio and his men, especially because that man is also Julie's father.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I kinda, sorta feel bad for zombies. Don't get me wrong -- I still consider them as the walking dead who see us as a living smorgasbord and our brains as some sort of yummy, dessert-based Jell-O salad. Accordingly, they should be avoided at all costs if ever encountered. But due to overexposure in both the movies and on TV, they're currently queued up in front of the ramp of or have already done the deed of jumping the shark as fans of the Fonz still say.

The bigger bit of empathy, though, stems from the fact that most filmmakers and viewers are prejudiced against such characters. In fact, zombies are the Rodney Dangerfields among monsters as they don't get any respect. Sure, some writers and directors have positioned them as fast-moving monsters worthy of inspiring fear. For the most part, however, they're traditionally portrayed as dumb, lumbering brutes who are easily outrun and usually outwitted.

It certainly doesn't help that such stories nearly always portray them as the villains. Sure, a few offerings such as "Shaun of the Dead" make them slightly more palatable by throwing some comedy into the mix. Yet, beyond the barely seen straight to video "Wasting Away" (from 2007) and the extremely low budget 2008 English flick "Colin" that played in some film festivals, we've rarely seen a tale told from their perspective.

That's about to change, and possibly in a fairly significant way if the film develops a following, now that we have "Warm Bodies," a PG-13 rated zombie romantic comedy based on author Isaac Marion's novel of the same name. We immediately know it's told from their side because we hear the thoughts -- via voice-over narration, that I usually don't like but found works here -- of our lumbering protagonist, R (Nicholas Hoult, best known for playing the kid in the 2002 Hugh Grant dramedy "About a Boy"), as he describes his situation.

While he might be unable to process, let alone speak words on the outside, and can barely manage to lock in his gaze for more than a few moments due to the body and head shaking, his internal dialogue is quite clear, even if he can't remember how he died or what his name is (beyond it starting with an "R," thus his new nickname). And with that quite clever, amusing and sometimes downright hilarious opening sequence, we're introduced to our unlikely hero and thrust into what's going to be his unlikely story about star-crossed lovers once he meets a young woman, Julie (Teresa Palmer).

You know, like that young couple from so long ago that wanted to be together but came from opposite sides of the Verona tracks...what were their names...oh yeah, Romeo and Juliet. Yes, writer/director Jonathan Levine ("50/50") adapts Marion's novel and holds onto that Shakespearean material, including some obvious (a balcony scene, anyone?) and perhaps not-so-recognizable signature element (Analeigh Tipton playing Julie's best friend, a young woman who once had dreams of becoming a nurse and now is her confidante).

That might sound too goofy (sometimes it is, and the film and its makers readily show they know that) or even too contrived and obvious, but it all goes down fairly easily, sometimes with big doses of charm and surprising warmth. Thankfully, it never feels overwrought or awful like the "Twilight" flicks and their somewhat similar tale of forbidden, cross-human species love.

While it has some logistical problems (such as how does R power the record player he has among his collection of things on a long-abandoned airliner parked on an airport runway) and ebbs and flows regarding maintaining a steady and successful combination of comedy, horror and romantic comedy elements (yes, there are musical montages), I enjoyed the offering for the most part. It's not anything great and sometimes feels a bit long in the tooth despite its fairly short runtime, but it's something of a breath of fresh or at least creatively inspired air in the otherwise doldrums and cinematic dungeon of the beginning of any movie calendar year.

Hoult (whose piercing eyes certainly help give the impression of humanity inside his character) and Palmer have good chemistry together, especially in their awkward, early moments. The same holds true for the young star and his best pal (Rob Corddry), although the best of those occur early in the film as the two struggle to communicate through the haze and physical impediments of being zombies.

In fact, the film never quite manages to match the fun, humor and creativity of its opening moments, although the introduction of the aforementioned charm and warmth mostly make up for the weakening of the funny stuff. For fans of regular zombie flicks, there are the usual attacks, although toned down enough to stay within what the MPAA believes are PG-13-rated parameters. But some new additions -- skeletal zombies known as Boneys that move fast and have no intention of possibly regaining any of their former humanity -- not only look fake (the CGI isn't up to snuff for photo realism) but also don't do much for the story. And if you're going to have John Malkovich in a zombie movie, for goodness sakes, cut the man loose and let him do his zany thing.

Hopefully, "Warm Bodies" will be the last zombie flick for a while as the undead have definitely overstayed their welcome and over-crowded both TV and especially the movies of recent. Should this be the last entry, at least the genre will go out on a clever, sometimes funny and upbeat note, with even some heart -- yum, yum -- thrown in for good measure. The flick rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed January 29, 2013 / Posted February 1, 2013


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