Warm Bodies is a zombie romance movie, based on a zombie romance novel, which the author, Isaac Marion, wrote because people on the Internet liked his short story called, “I am a Zombie filled with love.” So the lesson to take from this is, “Don’t listen to people on the Internet.” Who knows? Maybe the book is great. But the movie seems like a YA attempt at a manipulation of a genre about which the author knows next to nothing.
An angsty zombie named R who just wants to be able to feel, played with dashing hidden Britishness by a grown up Nicholas Hoult, meets a blond, pretty girl named Julie (the Kristen Stewart look-alike, Teresa Palmer), and a classic romance blossoms. You know, that thing where the guy eats his love interest’s boyfriend’s brain, experiences all his memories, and falls in love with her. Then she falls in love with him, and this miraculously cures him of his crippling zombieness!
In fact, their love makes all the zombies remember how to feel warm and fuzzy inside! So the zombies start getting better until they turn human again. To keep it exciting, there’s an extremely zombified group called Bonies, which are basically skeletons, just too far gone to remember how to be human. The re-feeling zombies and the remaining people band together to kill the Bonies. They’re called Bonies. One more time. Bonies.
Love triumphs. Zombies are cured. They all hold hands and sing/grunt, “We Are The World.” Okay, the last part isn’t quite what happens, but it should be.
In Warm Bodies, zombies are called, “corpses,” perhaps to get around causing outrage at the fact that this brand of zombie can talk, has the nimble dexterity necessary to play a record, and can vehemently defend the sound quality of vinyl. R, that hipster zombie, can slide the disc out of the cover, place it on the turntable, and gently touch the needle to the grooves. All other iterations of undead definitely couldn’t do that. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of the people in the theater audience don’t have those fine motor skills. Though, to be fair, R’s taste in music is probably the best thing about the movie.
Maybe staying true to zombie conventions wasn’t foremost in the filmmakers mind, but in order to successfully flip a genre on its head, you have to know the genre. You can’t decide to keep the convenient qualities (the grayish hue, the grunting, the stumbling), and abandon the stuff that would make it hard for you to tell your story. It’s not creative. And it doesn’t work. A film is not a “new take on zombie movies” if the filmmakers reinvented the entire wheel of zombie rules (It’s totally a thing. George Romero rides to brunch on it).
Warm Bodies has moments of cuteness and the two leads are pretty good. Then, there are great cast members that are totally and completely and in all other ways underutilized. Rob Corddry plays M, R’s best friend and the sweetest, baldest corpse that ever did reanimate. M doesn’t say or grunt anything funny until about fifteen minutes from the end of the film, when apparently the sky opened up to writer-director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness and 50/50) and a smiling Final Draft document floated down to him and typed out the words, “It’s okay to write jokes into your screenplay.” The final few scenes are pretty funny, sorta heartwarming (literally for the zombies! Booyah!), and I would go so far as to say, kinda pleasant.
But, in another wasted performance, John Malkovich plays Grigio, the head of the survivors and Julie’s dad. And the craziest thing about his character is how completely and utterly and disappointingly normal he is. I honestly had no idea that Malkovich could give that ordinary a performance. And I did NOT like it! John Malkovich is in your movie, and he’s not going to fly off the handle once!? He’s not going to scream at everyone while drinking bourbon or very calmly tell someone that he is an “imbecile” or an “idiot” or “should get out of my sight before I gouge out your eyes with my pinky finger.” See?! It’s not hard to write things for John Malkovich! But nope! He was so reined in that it hurt to watch.
I warmed up to Warm Bodies toward the end, slightly, but overall, it didn’t deliver a creative, clever spin on a zombie movie. Instead, it was a lukewarm, murky genre-bending attempt that felt like a starved and sort of inept leech grasping to the side of the current vampire/werewolf/teen/romance/blah/blah/blah trend. Also, Bonies.