‘Warm Bodies’ zombie romance is lacking in logic

February 10, 2013

Warm Bodies wants to have its brains and eat them, too. Perhaps I am too old-fashioned when it comes to my monster mythologies. I like vampires that don’t sparkle, mummies that are slow and lumbering, and zombies to whom death is not some treatable side effect, like a bad acne outbreak.

But in the new romantic zombie film “Warm Bodies,” apparently love is like a big bottle of Proactiv for the undead, as all their rotting flesh seems to regenerate when they find that special someone.

I’m not a purist, and I am willing to succumb to the universe a film creates if it adheres to it. I’ve accepted zombies’ transformation from shuffling, slow-moving beasts in the George Romero days of old to the new feral, fast-running zombies in more recent adaptations. But “Warm Bodies” fails because it wants it both ways.

It begins tonally unbalanced, as we meet our undead protagonist, R (played by Nicholas Hoult), not only by witnessing his daily slog through life, feasting on freshly killed humans, but also through an inner monologue, while we hear his witty musings on life amongst the non-living. Sure, he chows on people, but he’s really conflicted about it. He gripes at just how slow he’s supposed to walk (more on that later). And even though his skin is slowly sliding off his bones, he finds beauty in the world through his music collection and pretty girls.

One pretty girl in particular, Julie (played by Teresa Palma) has seemed to have caught R’s soulless eye. He rescues her during a siege and takes her back to the abandoned airplane cabin he calls home, where he can dexterously open doors, play vinyl records and open beers without hesitation. You see, R is just a geeky, shaggy-haired heartthrob in zombie’s clothing. Sure, he may be a festering, walking maggot farm, but he’s actually just a shy, misunderstood cinematic outcast teen.

I have no problem reworking the zombie lore, but in “Warm Bodies,” it’s an afterthought. Why have R bring up the fact that he’s frustrated that he cannot run, only to have him sprint with Julie to safety throughout the entire second half of the movie?

Why let us in on the fact that R’s pissed he can’t vocalize beyond a word or two, only to have him (and his buddy M, played by Rob Corddry) manage not only polysyllabic words, but complex sentences? And just how/when did M learn to drive? Perhaps if the central story wasn’t just another tired take on “Romeo and Juliet” (R and Julie? Get it? And yes, there’s even a balcony scene), there would have been more at its core allowing us to look beyond these logic gaps.

Since zombies are the film’s semi-heroes, we are introduced to a subset of the undead called Boneys, which are little more than poorly constructed CGI skeletons that kill mercilessly, but who appear on screen only when it’s convenient for director Jonathan Levine.

There’s a lot the director could have said with this setup, and there are glimpses of something better just off in the shadows. For example, when R imagines what life was like before his current condition, we see a crowded public place where denizens amble through with faces buried in electronic devices, oblivious to the world around them. But that is all dropped for more conventional setups of R undergoing a makeover to help him blend in (a device used to far greater comedic effect in “Death Becomes Her”).

“Warm Bodies” is, as its title suggests, just kind of there: never scary enough to frighten, never funny enough to be considered a true comedy, never enough romantic development to explain why we should truly care for the leads to be together.

A film that would have worked far better as a tragedy like its source material (forbidden love that could truly never be), and perhaps as a 15-minute short, “Warm Bodies” is essentially the ‘Twilight’ of the living dead: a tween-dream of a romantic horror flick that sacrifices all signs of true life in return for an audience that just wants to see its attractive leads find love by the final frame.

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