Warm Bodies

“Warm Bodies” won’t stand for being just another zombie movie—it wants to be the first-ever zombie love story.

When fate places R (Nicholas Hoult), an Edward Scissorhands-like zombie who can’t remember the rest of his name, together with Julie (Teresa Palmer), a Katniss warrior type, a serious case of puppy love can’t be avoided. And it’s clear from their names, meant to echo Romeo and Juliet, that this is also going to be a case of forbidden love.

The film takes place several years after the rise of two kinds of zombies has mostly wiped out humanity. There are the milder zombies, known as the Corpses—R’s a conflicted Corpse, not totally cool with eating folks. The Boneys are the advanced, faster-moving form of Corpses, closely resembling those CGI skeletons from the “Mummy” movies. They won’t hesitate to gobble up any Corpses that annoy them, so the situation’s basically humans threatened by zombies and both humans and zombies threatened by uberzombies.

R wins Julie’s heart first by saving her from other, less enlightened Corpses, then by keeping her safe for a spell in the abandoned airplane he inhabits solo at Zombie Airport. “You rescued me, like, a bunch,” Julie coos in teenspeak.

Loads of voiceover narration establishes that R has a fully functioning interior life well before he starts to recover his speech in Julie’s warm presence. The two bond over vintage vinyl, turning out to both be students of classic rock.

When Julie decides to return to the walled-off human city, their relationship faces a couple walls—one being R’s confession that he ate Julie’s boyfriend’s brains but the main one being that Julie’s father (John Malkovich) is as anti-zombie as they come. Dad, who turns out to be an emotional zombie, would much rather shoot R between the eyes than welcome him into the family.

So R must prove his loyalty by convincing the Corpses to join with the humans in a grand battle against the Boneys. The ensuing zombie awakening, complete with E.T.-style heartlights, finds writer-director Jonathan Levine pouring way too much syrup on what was shaping up to be something pleasantly original.

“Romeo and Juliet” this is not. While the setup’s clever and the actors appealing—especially Hoult, the “About a Boy” boy all grown up—“Warm Bodies” can’t hold its center. The film collapses on itself, a victim of its own goofiness and corniness.

This is most evident when it comes to the ridiculous cure to zombieness that Levine in the end proposes: all zombies ever needed to change was a little love. Cue the classic rock and the audience’s groans.

Levine’s shifting with this film into a more commercial gear after his indie-minded successes “The Wackness” (2008) and “50/50” (2011). While it’s encouraging to see him taking on pop material, adding enough unique touches to what could’ve been just another “Twilight” knockoff, “Warm Bodies” never completely wakes itself up.

Trailer: www.emanuellevy.com/?attachment_id=60830