*** (out of four)
Picture a zombie shuffling around a post-apocalyptic society, mumbling not “Brainssssss,” but “Heartsssss.” Not because he prefers to eat hearts, but because he wants to revive his own.
In writer-director Jonathan Levine’s (“50/50”) sweet, tame horror comedy “Warm Bodies,” R (Nicholas Hoult) never mutters about the body parts that he favors or needs to eat to stay alive. Usually referred to as a living corpse rather than a zombie, R clings to tiny drops of humanity more than the other pale-faced undead around him, including his best friend M (Rob Corddry), whose conversational abilities barely extend beyond grunting.
When R spots the beautiful Julie (Teresa Palmer) and saves her life, he’s rejuvenated. Sure, she’s scared he’ll attack her and isn’t thrilled he killed her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco). He ate Perry’s brain and absorbed his memories, thus learning about some of Julie’s feelings and experiences.
Julie sees more in R than his unsettling, supposedly unlovable appearance, though. “Keep. Safe,” he promises her, and she gradually trusts he will. When they get separated and Julie misses R, the affectionate rapport between Palmer and Hoult ensures that we believe something like love can exist between a human and an, um, ex-human. Whether this could, as progressively happens in the film, invigorate the humanity in R’s colleagues requires romanticism I’m fully willing to embrace.
Somewhat ironically, this zombie tale has trouble with movement. Heavy on voiceover early on, “Warm Bodies” never quite takes off, registering closer to “nice” than “fun.” It pales compared to the juiced-up entertainment of “Zombieland” or the we-are-all-walking-dead satire of “Shaun of the Dead.” Adapting Isaac Marion’s novel, Levine nods to “Romeo and Juliet” and “Beauty and the Beast” but doesn’t get too bogged down in classic references.
At heart, the funny, endearing “Bodies” chronicles an awkward, lonely guy with a crush and a determination not to seem creepy. Most (currently or formerly living) people likely have felt that way at one point, in pursuit of a love that, literally or not, feels like it could change the world.
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