Zombie love story "Warm Bodies" introduces a new film genre: the zom rom com. It has all the leg shuffling, brain-eating fun of a horror film played out against a modern day "Romeo & Juliet" tale. The combination might sound as compatible as chicken and chocolate, but director Jonathan Levine makes the odd mix work.
The film is based on Isaac Marion's novel about a not-so-distant future where a weird plague has turned the majority of the population into zombies. One of these walking dead, a zombie (Nicholas Hoult) who can only remember his name starts with an R, shuffles his way through a local airport. Except for a few shared grunts with his best dead bud M (Rob Corddry), life's relatively uneventful.
Then R meets Julie (Teresa Palmer). She's part of a scouting party from the local walled-in city of survivors run by her dad, Grigio (John Malkovich). Things go bad and Julie is about to become a light snack until a lovestruck R rescues her. This is the start of a beautiful relationship that slowly brings back R's humanity. The process is helped a little by R having eaten the brains of Julie's former boyfriend (Dave Franco), which gives him some real insights into the woman he loves.
"Warm Bodies" works because of Hoult's sweet and slightly silly performance. He plays R with the same nervousness, uncertainties and doubts many very alive teens face when they fall in love. His plight happens to be complicated by being dead, but under all that rotting flesh is a typical teenager. The real joy of the film comes through voice-overs by R, where he reveals all the confusion he's feeling. There are no great revelations, but there are plenty of moments that resonate with anyone who's had a first love. It's really amazing how much emotion comes from R despite his being a zombie.
Unlike other teen-creature love stories, this is not about the angst of caring for someone. It's more about the joy and jubilation that comes with such a connection.
Levine finds a sweet tone for his main story and then sprinkles in enough creepy parts -- such as some stripped-down zombies known as Bonies -- to give the film a nice horror underbelly. This is balanced by some very light and comical moments, such as Julie's efforts to play dead to avoid being attacked. Levine blends these elements so smoothly that the movie has a seamless flow.
The director also scatters just enough "Romeo & Juliet" moments to create a connection to that great love story. The move helps reinforce the tale of unrequited love while adding an element of fun (try spotting all of the similarities).
"Warm Bodies" proves a movie can have a lot of heart even when the heart of one of the characters isn't beating.
"Warm Bodies," rated PG-13 for language, scary scenes. Stars Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, Dave Franco. Directed by Jonathan Levine. Running time: 97 minutes. Grade: B+ Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.