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Jonathan Levine's Warm Bodies is a semi-successful experiment in cross-dressing genres. It's an inventive blend that tries to be self-satirizing within a somewhat traditional rom-com formula. The result is a zom-rom-com that feels both too safe and too unorthodox to capture much of a franchise-building following. In a world where evil depends on the amount of skin still on your bones, human Julie, played by Teresa Palmer (I Am Number Four), falls under the protection of zombie R, played by Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class), and the two of them begin to develop a somehow not creepy but definitively necrophiliac relationship. Since R is still pretty human looking, he's a good zombie while other skinless zombies, called "bonies", are human-eating id-machines. R's mission is to save Julie from the malevolent bonies while trying to re-assimilate the undead into the world of the living. While Hoult's R may be dead, him and Palmer have real chemistry and are a much preferable on-screen couple to Twilightites Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Hoult manages to avoid the easy undead caricature and actually breathes life into this dead dude, a task Pattinson never could accomplish. Palmer likewise creates a female lead who is empowered and likeable, essentially the polar opposite of K Stew. Although the emotional narrative relies heavily on voice overs, the leads shoot enough ironic passion-laden glances to cut through the potential cheese factor that dominated the Twilight saga.
Something you're sure not to miss is the hefty load of allusions to Romeo and Juliet that Levine, who directed last year's under-appreciated 50/50, doesn't bother to bury. First up, take our heroes names, R and Julie, an obvious tip of the hat to the Bard's most famous ill-fated loved. Furthermore, our heroes are also each embedded within incompatible cultures that refuse to understand each other, however in this universe, R's people hunger for the flesh of Julie's people. A slight change up from the original. And for those who have yet to catch on to the R&J references at this point, a familiar looking balcony scene is sure to make the connection click. Filling out the cast we have Filling out the cast we have Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine) getting the laughs going with some well-timed grunts and cusses while John Malkovich (RED) plays the generic, type-A, overbearingly aggressive father that we've seen a million times before. One of the biggest things that Warm Bodies does to hurt itself is it's shameless sense of cheating itself. There are multiple moments where Levine breaks the rules that he has established for his universe in order to propel the narrative along. I call this shameless because these inconsistencies are never acknowledged and yet sit there like an awkward elephant in the room. If zombies can't talk, don't let them miraculously have a quick-paced conversation just to hurry up the plot. That's called cheating. Additionally, the onscreen violence is noticeable lacking as Warm Bodies, which is still a zombie film, is almost entirely bereft of blood done in cheap CGI. While I get the desire to grab a PG-13 cut, the internal battle between satire and mass appeal feels a little disingenuous, even though I'll admit to understanding the tactic. On that note, it's hard to pinpoint the target audience for this new genre entry, it's too bloodless to appeal to the main zombie camp and too mocking and wink-wink to capture the teeny boppin' twihards in withdrawal and while it's certainly better than Twilight, it's nowhere need the greatness of Zombieland. In the end, Warm Bodies is kind of a mixed bags that isn't bad so much as forgettable. On one side of the spectrum, it goes out of it's way to poke fun at itself, never taking it's silly zombies-reanimating-via-the-power-of-love premise too seriously and yet it fails to take that satire full force and this leaves us with an end product that is too involved with trying to be too many things.
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