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Movie review: 'Warm Bodies'

Warm Bodies

Director: Jonathan Levine

Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich

Rated: PG-13 (zombie violence, some strong language)

Running time: 97 min.

Posted 2:38pm on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013

We've had slow zombies, fast zombies and funny zombies. Now, with Warm Bodies, romantic zombies have shuffled into the mix.

That sound you hear? It's Night of the Living Dead diehards collectively retching.

If only Warm Bodies were easy to dismiss as merely some sort of corporately contrived, bandwagon-hopping boondoggle. Based on a novel by Isaac Marion and written/directed by Jonathan Levine (who made one of the best films of 2011 with 50/50 as well as the critically adored All the Girls Love Mandy Lane), Warm Bodies is a sweetly funny and touching riff on Beauty and the Beast or Romeo and Juliet -- if the Beast feasted on flesh or Romeo came back from the dead.

Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class) is a lurching, lonely zombie named R (he can only remember the first letter of his name). He hangs out at the airport, grunting pleasantries to his best friend M (Rob Corddry), collecting cool stuff from the pre-apocalypse (lots of classic-rock vinyl), and avoiding the "bonies," zombies who've completely decayed into ravenous, rampaging skeletons and lost all contact with their humanity.

But he still craves his meals to be of the two-legged variety and when he runs across a team of young humans from the walled city on a recon mission for supplies, they make for a nice snack -- especially Perry (Dave Franco, Scrubs), the boyfriend of Julie (Teresa Palmer, Love and Honor) whom he can't bring himself to kill. Feeling something he hasn't experienced since his death, R saves her from the other ghouls, takes her back to his hiding place on a crumbling airplane and plays some John Waite, which gets her thinking that maybe these zombies aren't so bad after all.

It's no happily-ever-after, though, as her dad (John Malkovich) is the leader of what's left of the humans and an avowed zombie slayer. And the bonies, sensing their less decomposed comrades may be flickering back to life, are on the warpath. What's young love to do?

Sure, logic -- even by zombie movie standards -- is thrown out the window. At first, the zombies are as slow as rush-hour traffic, but later they become Olympic sprinters when the plot calls for it.

But that doesn't matter as Levine has crafted an engaging tale of unlikely young love that, like his other films, reverberates with a heartfelt humanity. The message may be obvious -- we're all just a little undead until connecting with someone outside ourselves -- but it's still effective.

Warm Bodies isn't laugh-out-loud funny, but it has enough humor to save it from mawkishness while the bonies provide the few requisite frights.

Classicists who'd rather see zombies turning humans into luncheon meat rather than love objects shouldn't take this too hard. They've got new episodes of The Walking Dead coming soon and the epic zombie-battle blockbuster World War Z opening in June.

Besides, what's going to happen after the first zombie-human breakup? A zombie on the hunt for dinner and revenge could be an awesome sight to behold.

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