Saturday, February 9, 2013

Warm Bodies - Theatrical Review

Release Date: February 1, 2013

'Warm Bodies' barely raises a temperature despite its clever zombie backdrop.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 10:00 pm January 31, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 2D  
Film Rating: PG-13   
Film Runtime: 1 hr 37 min
Studio: Lionsgate

Loves: Zombie movies, the zombie genre
Likes: Clever twists on well worn genres
Neutral: The sacrifices made to realize that clever twist
Hates: That darn trailer showing the entire movie   
Those looking for the next "Twilight": Need not apply

It has been 8 long years since the zombie apocalypse began. Humanity has had to resort to living within the boundaries of huge walled into sections of the city while the zombies roam freely. One zombie in particular who refers to himself as R (Nicholas Hoult) has an unusual perspective on what it is to be a zombie and is tired of being alone. One day when R and a group of other zombies at the local airport decide to head into the city for a bite to eat, they come across a group of survivors searching for supplies whom they promptly begin to attack and eat. During the feast however, R becomes fixated on one particular survivor,  Julie (Teresa Palmer) and instead of killing her decides to take her home and protect her. While held up at R's hideaway, the two of them begin to feel a connection that will unknowingly have repercussions throughout both the zombie and human communities and change their worlds forever.

Taking popular horror genres and turning them into teen romance flicks is something of a sore spot for horror fans. Started by the ludicrously popular "Twilight" films where vampires and werewolves were ostensibly deprived of what makes them what they are in favor of making them these hot,cute and lovesick studs, horror fans the world over have sworn off these atrocities in hopes that the fad would someday go away. While it has sadly remained fairly viable, it's nice when someone gets it right once in a very great while even when it isn't perfect. With director Jonathon Levine's new zom/rom/com film "Warm Bodies", he has created a teen romance film that has been integrated into that oh so tantalizing horror framework with limited success and questionable sacrifices. While it gets the romance bits right, it unfortunately comes at a price that may be too high to pay for most horror/zombie fans out there.

To start off on a positive note, anyone out there afraid that this may turn out to be another Bella/Edward/Jacob catastrophe can breath easy. There is a moment early on where your fears are put to rest with an extremely clever jab at the "Twilight" structure where the other man in Julie's life, Perry (Dave Franco) is taken out of the picture permanently in appropriate zombie fashion. It is one of the only moments in the entire film that feels like an actual true zombie movie moment and the one moment that draws the line in the sand for both non-zombie and non-romance fans alike. Either you are OK with a romance that features a lead actor who eats the boyfriend of the girl he is courting while secretly snacking on his brains for a quick hit of nostalgia, or you check out at that moment and either go looking for a straight up zombie gore fest or you go running for the nearest rom com where the two leads confess their everlasting love for one another.

The success of any romance film always rests on the shoulders of its two leads though regardless if one of them is a zombie or not. There is a tricky balance that had to be struck in regards to the character of R, Julie's romantic interest. It's tricky because he is a zombie and zombies don't make very good conversationalists (although his constant narration alleviates that issue for the audience) nor are they very pleasing to look at with all that rotting flesh and those dead eyes. Here are where the many conceits the filmmakers took when using the zombie premise as their backdrop kick in. With the sole exception of the Bonies (zombies that have stripped away all their flesh), every single zombie in the film are in near perfect condition. If not for some slight scars across their faces and extreme pale complexions, you would be hard pressed to think these were zombies.

Which leads us into the biggest conceit of all, the film's PG-13 rating. That rating says only one thing to the horror/zombie crowd out there which is, "we want teenage girls to see this". Making the zombies actually talk, making them think, have homes! and of course making them cute and caring, it all screams teenage fantasy and while it never truly betrays zombie lore completely, it gets awfully close to it at times. The lack of blood and guts isn't really a deal breaker though (unless that is what you were looking for), the film handles the content (or lack thereof) rather well with only a handful of moments where you can tell Levine was clearly holding back. But for the type of movie this is trying to be (a teen romance), these conceits are needed because lets face it, if these were the zombies seen in "The Walking Dead" then this story would end a whole lot quicker and with many more casualties.

If you approach the film from the perspective that you are coming to see a romance movie first and foremost then its weak portrayal of a zombie apocalypse shouldn't have that much of an impact on you. The romantic parts of the film actually work and even though there is very little in the way of genuine comedy, it is pretty darn funny at times too with R's friend M (Rob Corddry) delivering most of the funniest bits, "Bitches....". R is an extremely endearing fellow though and someone that is real easy to root for. When you have your lead male actor shuffling around, moaning and groaning while craving human flesh and the audience still hopes he gets the girl in the end, that is some kind of minor miracle. A lot of the credit has to go to Hoult though because his subtle mannerisms really help you identify with him. As he sits there and tries to fix his hair so he looks presentable but totally fails at it or tries to glance at Julie as he is driving (don't ask) and it just comes off as completely awkward, it all combines to make him a very relatable character.

Palmer on the other hand isn't quite as successful as the other part of the romantic equation. It's strange to think that out of the two of them, it's the one that is alive and breathing that feels the most underdeveloped and lifeless. It's not really a question of whether or not she is uninteresting or just plain dumb at times (which she is), she's just kind of an enigma. Many of her actions make very little sense, she has been living in a zombie infested world for 8 years now and still doesn't know how to survive? She not only gets herself in one life threatening situation by not listening to R's advice, but she does it TWICE! and with the exact same results and there is a even a moment when she has an open invitation to escape and decides to play around instead. To be clear here, Palmer (the actress) isn't the problem, she is really sweet in the role, the character as written is the real culprit in this case.

To be fair though, the film overall is rife with inconsistencies and logic issues. Why do they let a squad of kids parade out into the zombie wasteland with only some rifles to protect themselves when they have an army of well trained soldiers with machine gun mounted Humvees laying around? After 8 years, how would there even still be supplies to scavenge nearby? Why does it only take a day to walk from the city to the airport but it takes almost 2 full days to drive back? We know that what starts R's transformation is his growing love for Julie, but how exactly does that spread to all the other zombies who don't have that connection? Why do all the Bonies look exactly the same? Well, that one is because of the poor CG work but still worth mentioning.

"Warm Bodies" has its heart in the right place and with a little more tinkering it could have been something really special. As it stands now though it is displays only an inkling of the potential its clever premise suggests. Hampered by some fairly obvious logic issues, an emphasis on the romance angle over the zombie theme and a PG-13 rating that hurts it more than helps it, it will likely only appeal to those looking for a cute twist on the tried and true teen romantic comedy and alienate others looking for a more comedic and clever take on the popular horror genre. While this tale of a zombie who learns to love is certainly cute, its central focus on romance left this body feeling only lukewarm at best.





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