“Warm Bodies” succeeded where most romantic comedies have failed: balancing clever humor, good acting and a touching story.
Nicholas Hoult, of “X-Men: First Class” and the UK television show “Skins,” stars as the zombie R, who finds himself becoming increasingly more human-like.
His love interest is a human named Julia, played by Kristen Stewart look-alike Teresa Palmer, who finds herself questioning her indoctrination against zombies when R saves her life.
“Warm Bodies” is the latest take on the classic “Romeo and Juliet,” complete with obvious name-references (Juliet, R, and R’s friend M) and forbidden love, but with a much happier ending.
The story, based on the novel of the same name by Isaac Marion, isn’t wildly original — personal prejudices are heroically challenged and love is what saves the day — but it doesn’t have to be.
This particular zombie tale doesn’t try to use the undead as an allegory for the fear of “the other” or the dangers of consumerism or any high-brow criticism.
It’s simply a story where some of the characters are zombies.
This approach works for a romantic comedy because the premise is so ludicrous that any serious questioning on the finer details of this make-believe world would cause the whole plot to crumble.
Instead, “Warm Bodies” asks the audience to simply accept the ridiculous and go with it.
R and M (Rob Corddry) are the definite high points of the film, with their astonishingly lively zombie characters.
Hoult provides a surprisingly good performance with his dead-pan narration and careful attention to his physical presence.
R comes off as awkward as any teenage boy, but Hoult makes his unexpectedly kind heart believable — a true challenge, given that all his spoken lines are essentially grunted syllables or very simple sentences.
Corddry also excels at using his physical presence and actions to tell his story, since he doesn’t even have the benefit of providing narration like R does.
Palmer’s Julia is a bit bland in the way most female characters in rom-coms are — she’s the stereotypical “strong female character” who, in actuality, is largely undeveloped and primarily just a love interest — but she does her job.
Analeigh Tipton serves as the entertaining foil, playing Julia’s sarcastic but vulnerable friend Nora.
Tipton previously starred in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” as the teenager inexplicably lusting after Steve Carell, and she brings some serious comedic chops to this role.
Dave Franco and John Malkovich give throwaway performances as Julia’s boyfriend and father, respectively.
Jonathan Levine returns to direct his second major studio film, after the fantastic “50/50.”
Levine skillfully uses the camera to capture this sprawling and incredibly complex story, successfully dealing with both wide-open spaces and darkly claustrophobic ones.
He also wrote the screenplay, which delivers plenty of excellent one-liners as well as a few remarkably tender scenes.
But the film’s pleasant surprise is the music, which dynamically impacts the film’s mood from scene to scene.
R’s classic vinyl collection meshes well with both the synthetic pop soundtrack and Nora’s mockery use of “Pretty Woman.”
It’s this levity which pervades the film and makes it so much fun.
In short, simply enjoy “Warm Bodies” for what it is — a wildly entertaining movie not to be taken seriously, complementing humor with unexpected depth.
Coming On Friday, February 8:
“Side Effects:” A young woman takes medicine prescribed by her psychiatrist for anxiety, only to discover that the drug may have some unexpected side-effects.
Starring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones
“Identity Thief:” A Florida woman steals the identity of a Denver man, so he heads south to track her down and bring her to justice.
Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy