‘Warm Bodies’: The loving dead | 3 stars

Zombies get a new lease on life in this inventive romance.

02/01/2013 11:00 AM

05/16/2014 8:58 PM

Bruce Springsteen fans are going to find “Warm Bodies” completely implausible.

Not because an attractive young blonde falls in love with a zombie.

Nope. It’s when said blonde pulls out vinyl of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” and puts the needle on the record’s 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 Hollywood’s supernatural teen romance phase.

It’s missing — sorry, can’t resist — the

bite

of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” but the film mixes in heaping spoonfuls of William Shakespeare as well as a sprinkling of existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

That’s 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 doesn’t remember much of his previous life. He’s pretty sure his name started with an “R.”

As in “Rrrrrr.”

R. is conscious enough that he hoards trinkets in an abandoned passenger plane. He’s 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, it’s mystical mumbo-jumbo, but it’s 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 guy’s girlfriend, Julie (Teresa Palmer of “I Am Number Four”). Soon, his long-inert heart begins to beat again.

And thus we have our star-cross’d 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, Julie’s and R.’s confidants Nora (Analeigh Tipton of “Crazy, Stupid, Love”) and M. (Rob Corddry) steal nearly every scene they’re in — Corddry especially. M. is almost a dramatic role, except for the parts where he’s 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 he’s 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” doesn’t quite rise to the level of the original zom-rom-com “Shaun of the Dead.” But it’s 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 Marion’s “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 Springsteen’s “The River.”

Because “Hungry Heart,” the Boss’ hit song that Julie plays in the film, isn’t 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.”

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