The cinema of young-adult-novel adaptations has given us some gonzo plotlines: Twilight explored the politics of sexual repression via a vampire, a woman, and a wolf; The Hunger Games gave us Elizabeth Banks, dressed like Marie Antoinette, forcing children into battles royal.
But can either of those top Warm Bodies, in which a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult, who rarely has dialogue, speaking through voiceover for most of the film) eats the brains of dutiful young Perry (Dave Franco) and then creates a hostage situation cum romance with Julie (Teresa Palmer), the girl that Perry left behind? Complete with riffs on Romeo and Juliet and John Malkovich playing the angry dad who needs to lighten up and let his daughter date a zombie? I think not.
Sadly, though, the product doesn't live up to the pitch. Director Jonathan Levine (of The Wackness and 50/50 and who, despite some pleasurable CinemaScope framing here, seems to be in full sellout mode) panders to the teen set with a fervor that would make Stephenie Meyer blush. The flashbacks are filmed in a gold-tinted faux-8mm style that feels more like Instagram than home movies, and the main character can't remember his name but has no problem articulating his preference for vinyl over iPods.
So it's less than surprising when Julie gets R's heart beating again with a redemptive kiss. Said kiss leads to a big fight scene, with humans and intelligent zombies joining together to battle CGI villains (bonies — zombies without skin). The fight ends with everyone learning lessons about empathy and tolerance.
The rare gag lands, sure — Perry chastises R, "You can't dream, corpse! Dreaming's for humans!", as if he were in a Trix commercial. But for every laugh, there are a handful of groaners — like "This date is not going well. I want to die all over again." Forget Shakespeare. This hardly earns comparison to 10 Things I Hate About You.
Warm Bodies may be about zombies, but it's more of a Frankenstein's monster. It steals the "brain-dead culture" subtext from George Romero, the idea of rewriting classic romantic fiction for teen audiences from Clueless, and its best jokes from Shaun of the Dead. It's more like fan fiction than a coherent script. At one point, Levine even dedicates a close-up to a copy of the grindhouse classic Zombi 2. The only emotional reaction he conjures is a desire to watch other movies.