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Love at first bite

Warm Bodies
DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Levine
STARRING: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich

Warm Bodies has been dismissed in certain quarters as a cynical Twilight clone, a teeny flick for those who can’t get enough of this new romance, this love that’s breaking out all over the place between humans and the undead.

It’s an understandable enough reaction. There are basic similarities in the plot, the love story bogs the movie down in syrupy nonsense and film studio executives – the movies came from the same stable – have never been shy about the cynical approach to box office gold.

But the critics who have cried foul and waved the Twilight card have missed a crucial point here. In their haste to put the boot in – and those of us who write about movies love that old boot – they have forgotten something immensely important. They have forgotten that, in all of its long, long hours of screen time, the Twilight series was never once funny. Ever. At least not intentionally.

On that count alone, Warm Bodies stands well clear of the embarrassing vampire shadow.
It’s the near future and some class of an apocalypse has visited the Earth and left most of its population shuffling around as zombies. The hero (Hoult) is a zombie himself, well capable of providing clear and lively narration as to how he found himself in this predicament, yet unable to physically express himself in anything more than a grunt.

He lives at the airport, which seems relatively intact and that’s a disappointment. In my ideal apocalyptic scenario, the airports will be first to go and mankind will be forced to come up with a more humane way to carry people around the globe at speed.

Our zombie friend can’t remember his name but thinks it might begin with the letter R. It turns out later that his name has misguided shades of Shakespeare about it but I still kept thinking of him as Rob, just because Rob (the) Zombie seemed hilarious.

R doesn’t remember what caused the apocalypse either but I would suggest the gods of music had a hand in it, in order to revive the glory days of vinyl.

In the abandoned plane where he lives, R keeps a record collection and an old fashioned battery-powered turntable and treats us to a blast of John Waite for starters. Fond memories of romantic foolishness if you grew up in the 80s.

For a social life, R meets with his best friend (Corddry) for a chat that might occasionally include an actual word. They hunt together for food, too, joining the rest of the airport gang in sniffing out humans to eat. R isn’t exactly proud of this new development in his life.

He becomes even more conflicted when he’s suddenly smitten by a human named Julie (Palmer) and rescues her during a feeding session. He hides her away in his plane but how will she ever love him if she finds out he just ate her boyfriend – and that he keeps the boy’s brain in his pocket to snack on? Brains provide memories and that’s the closest a zombie gets to feeling alive. Now we know.

In any case, R’s love for Julie is doing strange things to him. It might even be that love is bringing him back to life. If he wants her to feel the same, however, he’s going to have to avoid the Guns‘n’Roses record.

He should also probably avoid her father (Malkovich), leader of the human survivors and liable to put a bullet through loverboy’s head. If they’re all going to come out of it at least half alive, they’ll have to steer clear of the Bones, a mad bunch of skeletal creatures who were once mere shuffling zombies but have really let themselves go.

In the early stages, Warm Bodies has fun with the zombie genre and is shaping up to be a decent comedy until director Jonathan Levine (50/50) loses the plot and takes the story down a romantic dead end, piling on the bad writing and the mushy silliness.

He also neglects to tell young Teresa Palmer to try talking properly. She might have the looks to kick start a dead man’s heart but she speaks in that irritating teenage mutter that’s been plaguing the movies in recent years. Her typically wiseass friend (Analeigh Tipton) is twice as annoying.

Nicholas Hoult, though, does a fine job as R and comedian Rob Corddry almost steals the show with a great performance as the faithful undead buddy who hardly says a word. John Malkovich doesn’t have too much to do and he doesn’t get too overbearing when he does it. Which is always a good thing.

The soundtrack is decent too, even if the songs are poorly used in making a point. Springsteen’s Hungry Heart is a particularly heavy-handed choice.

But the message must be driven home because, well, we’re all too dull to get it. We’re dead inside. We’re zombies, merely shuffling through life. And we can only truly live… when we connect.

Eating brains is optional.

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