Starring: Analeigh Tipton, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Nicholas Hoult, Lizzy Caplan
Rated: PG-13, for zombie violence and some language
Runtime: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Bottom line: Forgettable but fun dark comedy
First of all, let’s get one thing straight. “Warm Bodies” is not a zombie movie.
It is being marketed as a mix of the zombie, romance and comedy genres, but the zombie elements are downplayed to PG-13 level, and most of the zombies are not really zombies. More about that later.
The movie actually falls into the trend of combining literary classics or historical figures with a modern horror genre. It has more in common with the “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” series or “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” than it does with “Zombieland,” “Shaun of the Dead” or any straight zombie movie.
A more accurate title for “Warm Bodies” would have been “Romeo and Juliet and Zombies.”
The protagonist (Nicholas Hoult) is called R, because he is a zombie (sort of) and cannot remember his full name. He and his best friend (real zombies don’t maintain friendships), another zombie called M (Rob Corddry), attack a group of young, uninfected humans who are searching for medicine supplies for the people living in their protected zone of the city.
One of that group is a beautiful girl named Julie (Teresa Palmer), who happens to be the daughter of Grigio (John Malkovich), the leader of the human city.
R, M and the other zombies kill everyone in the group except Julie and her best friend Nora (Analeigh Tipton). R falls in love with Julie at first sight, saves her by smearing a little blood on her face to mask her human scent (gee, that was easy), and takes her back to his abandoned airplane home.
There, they listen to records, talk (yes, R can speak), and a romance buds. The romance is forbidden, of course, because R is a zombie. Instead of Capulets and Montagues, the two houses keeping the lovers apart are the living and the undead.
“Warm Bodies” proves you can enjoy a movie despite not buying into its premise at all.
As you can already see, I have many bones to pick with this movie for its portrayal of zombies.
Zombies are the undead. They do not have a heartbeat or consciousness. Their brain activity is limited to the instinctual need to consume human flesh as sustenance. They do not possess high order thinking skills, problem-solving abilities or human sensitivities to things like music and art.
“Warm Bodies,” however, begins with R providing long, self-reflective, lucid voice-over narration. He collects objects (think of him as the zombie WALL-E) and plays his favorite records.
I did not buy into the movie’s basic premise that R is a zombie. Nor did I believe Grigio, who is obsessed with zombies since they killed his wife years earlier, would send his daughter into the infested area of the city accompanied only by other teenagers who apparently have no training with the guns they carry.
I did not believe Julie would stay with R for as long as she does.
“Warm Bodies” also misuses Malkovich, possibly its greatest sin. Yes, Malkovich can play straight roles as well as anyone when he chooses, but that isn’t why we love him.
We love the Malkovich who steals scenes with performances that walk the line between plausible and parody. The Malkovich who mocks his own persona like he did in “Being John Malkovich.” If you cast John Malkovich in a zombie-rom-com, you don’t force him to play the entire movie straight. You let Malkovich be Malkovich! Turn the man loose!
“Warm Bodies” doesn’t include a single “Malkovich moment,” nothing that will even threaten to enter the pop culture lexicon like the line, “Pay this man his money” from “Rounders.” The most accomplished actor in the film is completely wasted.
And yet, despite all of these complaints, it’s a rather enjoyable movie to watch.
Director Jonathan Levine, whose previous film was the hugely underappreciated “50/50,” and his cast bring the film to life and provide an entertaining light comedy that should satisfy fans of quirky teen romances.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.