Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Squalor: Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies is one of those movies that's cute, but that's about the best thing you can say.  It's a film given credit for the fact that it's decent in spite of the odds: not a particularly good movie, not a a particularly original idea, but gentle enough to make necrophilia at least somewhat adorable.  The film is essentially a reworking of Romeo and Juliet that's been mashed-up with a bit of Beauty and the Beast and, well, a decidedly less comedic Shaun of the Dead.  Nicholas Hoult stars as R, a sentient corpse.  We meet R as he idles about a post-apocalyptic airport, groaning and growling in an attempt to release the on-going monologue happening in his still vital brain.  R is not all gone.  He has no memories, but he retains language and the need for connection apart from the devouring of flesh -- a tough lot for a zombie.  In true meet-cute fashion, a magical opportunity for real human interaction drops into his lap when he 'saves' the open-minded, kick-ass daughter (Teresa Palmer) of the man in charge of rallying the zombie busting troops.  Her name? Julie, of course. 
What follows unfolds with all the tried and true methods of a million and one generic rom coms, and to call Warm Bodies anything but an improbable Valentine, or Twilight with a sense of humor, would be to complicate it in ways it simply doesn't earn. Warm Bodies squanders a significant amount of potential and goes repeatedly for the cheap shots and sure things: cheeky voice over narration, quirky one-liners, a tongue-in-cheek makeover montage, and a 'safe' legitimizing of R and Julie's taboo undead affection. Hoult is charming as R, and able to convey subtle emotions through a blank stare, but director Jonathan Levine doesn't seem to trust the audience to stay with the narrative long enough to simply let R be R.  Instead, the pacing jerks in quick bursts and screeching halts that rarely lead to anything truly satisfying, and the story is fully dependent on a suspension of disbelief it doesn't seem interested in providing context for.  Levine has a story to tell, but merely tells it. Warm Bodies shows us very little and works, largely, through an endless stream of wittily worded exposition. The result is just plain dull, and, ironically more lifeless than the average zombie flick.
Which is to say, in part, that if you want your romantic comedy to feature zombies, you're better off sticking with Shaun of the Dead. Unfortunate, too, because Warm Bodies has real potential. As I watched, I found it easy to imagine the more memorable version of the film-the imaginary one where it immediately slips into the cult canon and not simply into the lineup at a 13-year old's sleepover- the one that doesn't shy away from guts. In that version, R always looks dead. In that version, R doesn't suddenly find it far easier to form words, Julie doesn't trust him so easily, and we get a complete picture of the world in the wake of a zombie apocalypse.  The film that didn't get made is the one I'm interested in seeing. Show me the zombie who's trapped, no, buried alive, behind some monstrous 'disease', then show me how that character (without falling back on voice over) interacts with a living, breathing human being through trial and error.  Show me what it's like for this character, I don't need another self-deprecating protagonist mumbling to himself in minute after minute of solid exposition. And? Don't you dare deus ex machina us with a fairy godmother touch straight out of the Grinch. The sad truth: Frankenweenie addressed the problems of the soulful undead far, far better than Warm Bodies.

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