Bruce Springsteen fans are going to find Warm Bodies completely implausible.
By DAVID FRESE
The Kansas City Star
Not because an attractive young blonde falls in love with a zombie.
Nope. Its when said blonde pulls out vinyl of Bruce Springsteens The River and puts the needle on the records fourth track. The song that plays: Hungry Heart.
Pfft. Everybody knows Hungry Heart is the first track on Side 2.
The compulsiveness of the Boss legion of fans notwithstanding (guilty as charged), Warm Bodies is a cute if occasionally cheesy love story that manages to tweak zombie lore while raising the bar on Hollywoods supernatural teen romance phase.
Its missing sorry, cant resist the bite of AMCs The Walking Dead, but the film mixes in heaping spoonfuls of William Shakespeare as well as a sprinkling of existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
Thats right. O zombie, zombie! Wherefore art thou zombie?
Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class and the upcoming Jack the Giant Slayer) plays a 20-something ghoul who is not quite as dead as we might expect. In narration he asks, What am I doing with my life? while shuffling around a major airport with his fellow zombies. He longs for the days when it was full of people talking on cellphones, texting and generally ignoring other living people.
You know, like zombies.
Though he has a higher level of consciousness than we are accustomed to, he doesnt remember much of his previous life. Hes pretty sure his name started with an R.
As in Rrrrrr.
R. is conscious enough that he hoards trinkets in an abandoned passenger plane. Hes smart enough to collect vinyl records (More alive, he says), and he even has enough sense to round up a pack of his fellow corpses to go a-hunting for something to eat. Namely brains.
Warm Bodies answers the age-old question of why zombies want braaaaains. In this world, munching on gray matter allows zombies to access the memories and feelings of their meal.
Sure, its mystical mumbo-jumbo, but its clever mystical mumbo-jumbo.
And so, when our young romantic eats the brain of a human out searching for medical supplies, R. becomes smitten with the guys girlfriend, Julie (Teresa Palmer of I Am Number Four). Soon, his long-inert heart begins to beat again.
And thus we have our star-crossd lovers.
Much like in his cancer comedy 50/50, Jonathan Levine lightens a dark topic at times literally. The zombified present is muted, blue-gray and dreary; the memories, dreams and eventual denouement are as vibrant as Oz.
And in tone, Warm Bodies is decidedly PG-13. True, R. does keep handfuls of brains in his hoodie pocket for late-night snacking admittedly gross but ripping of flesh and gnawing of bones are mostly implied. The mega-hit The Walking Dead is much more intense and graphic.
Warm Bodies targets the Twi-hards, but it elevates the genre. Palmer may resemble Kristen Stewart, but her character is more likable than Bella. And despite rigor mortis, R. is alive and truly lovelorn. Despite his coherent thoughts he can barely string two words together, but he conveys more in a single shrug than the sparkly vampire did in five movies.
Like most romantic comedy sidekicks, Julies and R.s confidants Nora (Analeigh Tipton of Crazy, Stupid, Love) and M. (Rob Corddry) steal nearly every scene theyre in Corddry especially. M. is almost a dramatic role, except for the parts where hes clobbering bad guys.
The film wobbles occasionally. It wraps up a little too neatly, and the computer animation of the boneys the flesh-stripped zombie antagonists seems repetitive.
The film also misses an opportunity for R. to question whether the emotions hes feeling are his own. Is he in love with Julie because her boyfriend was in love with her, or are these his true thoughts? That question is neither raised nor answered.
Warm Bodies doesnt quite rise to the level of the original zom-rom-com Shaun of the Dead. But its not-so-mindless entertainment that poses some interesting ideas.
Warm Bodies may offend zombie purists or creep out the less hearty, but a romantic comedy by any other name would smell as sweet.
If you like this, try
• Isaac Marions Warm Bodies, on which the film is based.
• Fido. Billy Connolly stars in this alternate-history satire about a 1950s America in which zombies are kept as servants. Also Shaun of the Dead, a brilliant take on the zombie film from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg.
• Bruce Springsteens The River. Because Hungry Heart, the Boss hit song that Julie plays in the film, isnt even the best track on the album.
What others are saying
• Peter DeBruge, Variety: An inspired mash-up of zombie heart and romantic-comedy brains.
• John Hazelton, Screen Daily: The second and third acts lack the charm of the first, and the film eventually turns into a pretty standard zombie action outing with less-than-impressive special effects.
• Cary Darling, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Levine has crafted an engaging tale of unlikely young love that, like his other films, reverberates with a heartfelt humanity.
Contact entertainment editor David Frese at 816-234-4463 or email@example.com. (Twitter: @DavidFrese).