What if zombies were self-aware?
That simple premise launches the zombie comedy “Warm Bodies,” as we meet R, a zombie who lives at the airport with a bunch of other zombies, walking around aimlessly and periodically going out to look for people to eat. He and his best friend zombie, M, hang out, exchanging meaningful grunts. R has turned an abandoned airplane into his home, where he hoards his treasures, which include snow globes and an extensive collection of classic vinyl records he listens to in the evenings.
R’s life becomes more complicated when he rescues the living Julie instead of eating her during a feeding frenzy, something he's prompted to do after eating her boyfriend’s brains and taking on the unfortunate fella's memories. R takes her to his airplane home, and this zom-com becomes a zombie romantic comedy … zom-rom-com!
Actually, “Warm Bodies” is mostly a textbook romantic comedy: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy can’t be with girl because they're from different worlds, boy won’t give up and love finds a way to triumph over whatever obstacles are thrown before it — like boy is a walking corpse.
Most of the humor in “Warm Bodies” is derived from the narration by R (Nicholas Hoult) — that's the only way we're privy to his thoughts, since zombies can’t speak. Rob Corddry (“The Daily Show”) manages some laughs as M, though, despite that limitation.
Since zombies are traditionally bad guys in movies, “Warm Bodies” (based on author Isaac Marion's debut novel) had to come up with a new villain. Here, zombies are divided into two categories: Those who still have their skin and some hope of redemption, and the “bonies” or “skeletons,” nastier outcasts of the zombie world, so far gone they've peeled off their skin and become even more superior eating machines. One plus of being a skeleton: They no longer merely lurch, they can move rather quickly.
Like any good romance, there has to be at least one uncooperative parent determined to keep the lovers apart. That falls to John Malkovich as Grigio, who is not only Julie’s dad but the leader of a community of survivors who've built a giant wall around their homes to keep the zombies out. Grigio believes the only good zombie is one that's been shot in the head.
Falling in love with Julie starts to bring R back to life, something the bonies find threatening. R and Julie now face two hostile camps — the bonies on one side and survivors on the other, setting the stage for the movie’s ultimate showdown.
The clever “Warm Bodies” delivers amusing one-liners and some good physical comedy, but it relies too much on R’s whimsical commentary and its novel or gimmicky premise. Other characters, including Grigio and Julie, are undeveloped stereotypes.
The simplistic romance plays out in a straightforward manner. There aren’t many unexpected twists or turns for these star-crossed lovers, and the end is never in doubt.
“Warm Bodies” is worth seeing for the humor, but don’t expect much of a storyline.