Poor R (Nicholas Hoult) has it rough when we meet him. He's a zombie with no recollection of his previous life, doomed to wander the remnants of an airport with hundreds of his fellow zombies while his brain is constantly running in existential mode.
I find it hard enough to deal with a short-lived existential crisis, and I know who I am and (generally) where I'm trying to go. I imagine it's much harder for R, who can only remember the first letter of his name but knows he wants more out of life than grunting, walking slowly and eating delicious, delicious brains.
Director Jonathan Levine (“50/50”) finds just the right tone for “Warm Bodies,” a delightful comedy that works both as a quirky romantic comedy and a fun action film with a goofy 1980s feel. It doesn't take itself too seriously but it isn't too stupid, either — although much of the film's success must be attributed to Hoult's amazing ability to express emotions without words or facial expressions.
The film opens on a normal day for R, filled with walking around and grunting to his “best friend” M (Rob Corddry). They can't have deep conversations like normal best friends, sadly, but their version — staring awkwardly at each other and attempting to grunt words — is quite funny.
While looking for food, R and M's zombie group runs into a human group that includes Julie (Teresa Palmer). R saves her from the other zombies, setting into motion one of the oddest romances I've ever seen.
Just about every element of the film works. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (“Talk to Her”) creates fascinating images that start out dark and dreary, and slowly become brighter and more cheerful as though the world was mimicking R's emotional progress. Levine and Editor Nancy Richardson (“The Vow”) find just the right pacing for both the film as a whole and the individual pieces, including some great action scenes that feel like they would have fit nicely into “Big Trouble in Little China.”
Now is probably as good a time as any to note that I've become rather sick of zombies in recent years. There's too much zombie. But “Warm Bodies,” like “Fido” in 2006, is refreshing because it's clever, funny and isn't about zombies so much as looking into that age-old question: What makes us human?
I mention this not to insult the zombie genre but to encourage anyone else who's had enough zombies to enter “Warm Bodies” with an open mind, because it's about zombies in the same way that “Moulin Rouge!” was about the Bohemian revolution.
Hoult's performance is great, and it's nice to see how well he has made the transition from a talented child actor (“About a Boy”) into a rising star. But Corddry also gives a fantastic performance, one that's much tamer than his usual. While he does high-energy well (he was hilarious in “Hot Tub Time Machine”), he captures several great moments in “Bodies” as proof that even a zombie with an existential crisis needs a reliable best friend.
Everything comes together in “Bodies” to create an extremely funny, enjoyable film. I smiled throughout and laughed big on multiple occasions. It has even inspired in me one of the most tell-tale signs of a great film: the desire to watch it again.
“Warm Bodies” is rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language.