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With: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, John Malkovich, Cory Hardrict
Written by: Jonathan Levine, based on a novel by Isaac Marion
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for zombie violence and some language
Running Time: 97
Date: 16/01/2013

Warm Bodies (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wherefore Art Thou, Zombie?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

By now, what more do movies have to say about zombies? Plenty, it seems, if Warm Bodies is any indication. Peripherally, it's a zombie adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, with a zombie Romeo and a human Juliet meeting on the wrong side of the tracks, and finding their love impossible in a cruel world. But Warm Bodies is no tragedy. It's an extremely hopeful movie about wanting, discovering, and adapting in very positive ways.

A zombie, who doesn't know his name but goes by "R" (Nicholas Hoult) wanders around an airport, narrating his life, after some unnamed zombie apocalypse. He occasionally meets for grunting "conversations" with his best friend "M" (Rob Corddry), and sometimes they go out hunting for food (human brains).

Three young people -- Julie (Teresa Palmer), Nora (Analeigh Tipton), and Perry (Dave Franco) -- living in a human outpost go out for medical supplies, and "R" and his zombie pals surprise them. "R" kills Perry and eats his brain, which gives him a blast of memories and sensations, among them a love for Julie. "R" likewise falls in love with Julie and makes the conscious decision to take her back to his lair, a defunct plane, fully decorated with found objects including a record player and several LPs.

"R" convinces Julie to stay for a little while, until it's "safe" to return. "R" slowly begins to undergo certain changes, becoming more human. Ultimately, it's up to "R" and Julie to convince her militant father (John Malkovich) that there's hope for more zombies to be rehabilitated.

What's remarkable is that, despite the movie's humor, it has a notable lack of cynicism. Perhaps the Shakespeare influence lends a kind of purity to the material. A more ambitious movie might have made something more about the ultimate integration of zombies into regular society, and the inequality that might have created, but this one merely opens its heart and suggests that goodness would prevail.

Perhaps eve better, it makes the idea of a zombie-human romance seem plausible. The terrific casting helps: Nicholas Hoult uses his expressive eyes to suggest things his limited zombie speech cannot, and Teresa Palmer has always been punchier and stronger than her material. Likewise, Corddry is very funny, Tipton finds space for her wonderful blend of pretty and awkward, and Franco does his best to bring personality to a small role.

Director Levine also gives us appealing zombies, not too disgusting, and with vestiges of humanity left. The real bad guys are the mutated zombies, the "boneys." These terrifying creatures have given up all attempts at humanity and given in to their monster side. Establishing a third, more evil party allows the first two parties to team up, making for an interesting drama.

Levine's last film was the unique 50/50, a cancer drama based on a true story that managed to be funny and entertaining rather than grim. It seems he's good at these hybrid types of movies, opening up old genres in new directions. It's nice to see some enthusiasm -- and some hope -- out there.

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