A moderately good-looking guy who’s a little insecure about his posture just wants to connect with people. The fact that he’s a flesh-eating zombie makes this a little difficult and, despite his current efforts to preserve the remains of humanity, he finds life less than satisfying. In a slightly humorous state of reflection, Warm Bodies is exactly that – just short of satisfying. Whilst it can be credited for breaking the mould on romantic comedies, a few plot holes and stunted character development stops it short of being something genuinely original.
After the success of 50/50 in 2011, director Jonathan Levine has decided to turn his hand from tragi-comedy to the zom-rom-com, a territory so deftly tred by Shaun of the Dead almost ten years ago. Throwing a cat among the pigeons tends to go down well within Hollywood scripts and the idea of a zombie-boy-meets-generically-pretty-girl appeals on the surface. Explaining the apocalypse and how Nicholas Hoult’s character came to be starts the film off on solid grounds. Jabs at the state of today’s society as well as the typical needs of a 20-year-old male provide a good connection between the audience and the character. ‘R’ as he goes by, is definitely still human inside as he makes jokes to himself, obsesses over his insecurities and enjoys an excellent taste in music. Hell, his lonely streak actually appeals to my sentimental side: hoping he wont be alone forever.
Warm Bodies begins to falter however in a sad fate of predictability, suffering from the trap of stacking the best jokes at the beginning of the script and within the trailer. Teresa Palmer’s performance is wooden and lacks imagination alongside Hoult’s. It’s clear that Hoult has embraced his character and its comedic potential, while Palmer relies on her looks and damsel-in-distress stereotyping to carry her through the film. Her character, Julie, isn’t given enough freedom to develop, and the one-dimensional structure of her personal storyline drains her of any colour or energy as an individual. The fact that she’s a dead ringer for Kristen Stewart and that they share the same lack of facial expression is also terrifying.
What should be praised is the strength of the supporting characters’ from both parties: Analeigh Tipton dominates her scenes as Julie’s slightly awkward and protective friend Nora, and R’s zombie pal, ‘M’ (Rob Corddry), does a great job of restoring his humanity with a sense of humour on the side. But it’s a shame the female lead isn’t be as bold; maybe then the relationship between R and Julie might be worth rooting for.
Additionally, the casting of John Malkovich as Julie’s bitter but overprotective father is disappointing. It feels more like an opportunity to emboss his name across the film’s promotional material rather than a genuine casting decision of someone who would fit the role. Malkovich’s character is made bitter by a predictable plot twist, and his role as a egotistical father and leader of the human survivors makes his tantrums and politically-influenced speeches seem a little contrived.
Most of them could be solved by slapping him across the face, rather than yet another family argument, flogging dead-horse issues which are irrelevant to the plot. It does make the boyfriend-father confrontation between him and R a little more entertaining but frankly, it’s lacking in what could be the perfect occasion for snappy one-liners.
I want to like Warm Bodies, I really do, but like a bad date or a poorly cooked dinner, it’s an idea that is brilliant in principle doesn’t quiet gel together on screen. What is a relief is that this is not a wasted opportunity for Hoult; he shines through the limitations of the script and in an effort to stand out, partly salvages the remains of the undead-loves-human rom-com equation that Twilight had previously rinsed dry.