The Kidd here...
When I heard the premise for WARM BODIES, I pretty much feared the worst - a TWILIGHT-type of romance in which a zombie is one-half of the equation. Seriously? You've got to be kidding me.
However, after getting to catch a few early peeks of Jonathan Levine's adaptation of the Isaac Marion novel, I suddenly became quite intrigued. Oh, sure... this story might have been built around love involving the undead , but it was nowhere near as mopey or emo as the starefest that made up Bella and Edward's courting period. There was a tongue-in-cheek humor to it, and it just felt like a fresh approach to the familiar romantic comedy formula. Besides, if Summit can get guys to go because zombies are involved and women to go because it's a rom-com, doesn't everyone win a little bit?
Well, one of our early screening spies, Ace Rimmer, got to check out the flick in full last week, and sent along his thoughts. Did he ultimately warm to the zom-rom-com, or did it fall as flat as anything starring Katherine Heigl?
Take it away, Ace...
You get the feeling there's a lot riding on WARM BODIES.
This year, THE TWILIGHT SAGA was finally put to rest and the law of Hollywood dictates the following dilemma; "What other horror sub-genre can we reinvent as a teen romance??" The timing is too convenient… The porcelain white zombie makeup too familiar…
Let's get this straight right away. WARM BODIES will definitely draw TWILIGHT comparisons. It invites them openly. But the comparisons will almost exclusively focus on how much more successful this is in almost every way. Twi-haters will celebrate WARM BODIES as proof positive of Team Bella's shortcomings and hail "This is how it's done right!!" Twi-hards will simply exchange vampire pencil cases with zombie ones. In short, everyone wins.
That's not to say WARM BODIES is a bona fide classic. As a horror, we barely get out of second gear. As a comedy it's sometimes soft and fuzzy where it should be razor sharp. SHAUN OF THE DEAD this is not (although there are a number of clever twists on familiar zombie gags). Where WARM BODIES completely nails it though, is the romance and likability of all the characters. It's utterly charming, surprisingly touching and occasionally, has some quite radical ideas to bring to the zombie sub-genre. Here WARM BODIES openly declares itself the antidote to TWILIGHT, offering up a relationship you can genuinely root for and wearing its rough edges proudly. This is a brilliant date movie, and a chance to see if both parties will embrace some romance and some loud brain munching.
I won't spoil the secrets of WARM BODIES but suffice it to say that it both respects and sets out to completely reinvent the zombie rules. I'm not the biggest zombie fan, but the liberties taken here I loved. They really make up for what is otherwise a fairly predictable plot.
How much you end up loving WARM BODIES might come down to how you take to Nicholas Hoult (Beast in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS) as R, our zombie protagonist. From the word go his voiceover kicks in, mumbling and self-deprecating, closely resembling Nicholas Cage's Charlie Kaufman in ADAPTATION. This despite the pretty boy looks and flattering makeup which, at times will have you wondering if he isn't a goth kid who smoked some bad dope and got lost at the airport, where the zombie hoards now reside. However Hoult, who will next be seen in Bryan Singer's JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, proves himself a strongly capable comedian and crafts a complex, fascinating creature. It sometimes comes down to zombie schtick, but far more often, this is a winning performance.
From the start R is clear thinking and surprisingly talkative. He also has a sweet vinyl collection and there's more than a whiff of WALL-E here. He's a hoarder. A lover, not a fighter. R's character traits are amusing enough at first, but it's really when Julie (Teresa Palmer) enters the fray that the character and his zombie quirks come into sharp focus. Director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The WACKNESS) dedicates the vast majority of WARM BODIES run time to building a genuinely believable relationship between the two. He leaves R and Julie space and time to figure each other out and develop a friendship that resonates. Whatever happens, R just wants to be with Julie, everything else is just getting in the way. Being a zombie becomes a metaphor for R's inability to communicate and like all good men, he finds other ways.
As for Julie, she really is the anti-Bella. Where Kristen Stewart's ice queen was frustratingly opaque, Palmer comes across as an emotionally mature and lovable heroine. For a zombie/human love story, Julie's mutual affection for R could have easily rung false, but to her great credit Palmer let's things develop naturally and as she comes to recognize her emotions for what they are, it's incredibly satisfying. As the movies goes on, Julie emerges as our lead protagonist, at least equal to R, a perfect balance for a tale of star crossed lovers.
Speaking of which, score one more for WARM BODIES in the Shakespeare referencing department. A subtle balcony scene trumps all the literal Romeo & Juliet book lingering TWILIGHT was able to offer up.
John Malkovich turns in a reliable performance as Julie's trigger happy general father and former model turned actress Analeigh Tipton (CRAZY STUPID LOVE) deserves a shout out for her sharp work as Julie's best friend Nora. The real scene stealer of the movie is THE DAILY SHOW alum Rob Corddry as the zombie M. He's easily the funniest character and claims all the best lines.
The biggest strike against WARM BODIES is the realization of the monsters known as Bonies, who serve as the main antagonists. These are zombies way past their sell by-date that have shed their skin to become straight up vicious skeleton creatures. It's a cool idea but the all-CG final product brings I AM LEGEND's bland vampires to mind. It's a shame and definitely robs the film of what should have been far more memorable, creepy encounters.
A final word on the soundtrack… We get Bob Dylan, M83, Guns N' Roses, Feist and The National. It rocks.
Ace Rimmer out.
TWILIGHT done right, you say...? I've heard similar thoughts from a few others who have managed to see WARM BODIES (including the mention of I AM LEGEND), so hopefully we've got a solid date movie coming our way at the beginning of February, as the vibe seems generally positive for this one.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
Follow me on Twitter.