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Entries in Warm Bodies [2013] (1)

Friday
Jun072013

Warm Bodies (2013)

The Twilight Zone

Fifteen minutes into Warm Bodies, I realized that hipster filmmaker du jour Jonathan Levine had actually turned me into one of the slack-jawed, mumbling creatures from his movie--the only difference is, I was with it enough to crave a bullet to the brain. Packed with contradictions; unanswered questions that few in the target audience would even think to ask; and the most ham-fisted, ain't-we-so-fucking-clever homages to Romeo & Juliet you'll ever see, this may be the dumbest, most frustrating waste of time I've endured all year (and, no, I haven't forgotten about After Earth).

I don't use the word "hipster" lightly when describing Levine. His recent work suggests a self-absorbed, aggressively unimpressed world view that collects anti-fads to the exclusion of everything else. Like the hunched, plaid-draped know-it-all recording Vines of his vintage Sesame Street shoelaces outside a failing record store, this brand of ugly freakdom is easy enough to ignore--unless it decides to get in your face with a whiny, problematic discourse about the true meaning of love, life, and death. These bridge trolls speak authoritatively, and at great length, but their knowledge of big-picture concerns is utterly insubstantial.

That doesn't stop Levine, though. The main character in his jerk-with-cancer picture, 50/50, was so smug and disconnected that I found myself rooting for the tumors. Warm Bodies imagines a zombie apocalypse survived by similarly empty, crabby people. To be clear, there's nothing wrong with empty, crabby protagonists, as long as their wit and adventures are entertaining enough to gloss over the bits that would normally compel one to not care about what happens to them.*

Sadly, our protagonist here is R (Nicholas Hoult), a vacant-eyed, shambling zombie who falls in love with gun-toting survivor Julie (Teresa Palmer). She's part of a small(ish) resistance movement led by her paranoid father (John Malkovich), and has spent the last eight years fighting the undead alongside a real tool of a boyfriend, named Perry (Dave Franco). Following an attack that leaves most of her scouting party dead, the smitten R helps Julie escape back to his hideout--an abandoned 747 that he's made into a comfy kitsch palace.

Yep, you read that right: in this universe, zombies are avid collectors living in bachelor pads. How is this possible, you might wonder, when the whole point of being a zombie is that all higher brain activity has ceased, save for the ability to move, recognize food, and attain it? That's a great question, but you're not gonna like the answer:

Warm Bodies is a zombie-free zombie movie. Just as the Twilight franchise is about "vampires" who don't have fangs, care nothing of crosses or holy water, and can walk around during the day, Levine's idea of flesh-eating monsters (as conceived by novelist Isaac Marion) is that zombies are people, too. They have self-aware inner monologues (R narrates the film), are able to use awesome fighting skills to fend off attackers, and, best yet, can bring themselves back to life through the healing power of love. Conversely, they are unable to speak (even if there's no visible sign of trauma to the neck or mouth), and can't remember their own names. I'll give them this, though, these corpses looove them some drama: R and his gang (!) are unable to move much faster than a shamble--until they need to evade a threat, at which point they run like nobody's business.

Not to be outdone, the human race has fared quite well during the end of the world, too. In the eight years since pretty much everyone was wiped out or turned, we managed to:

  • Build a several-hundred-foot concrete wall around a major metropolitan city
  • Procure and install enough solar panels to keep that city lit up like Rockefeller Center at Christmas
  • Invent sleek-looking hand-held scanners that can detect whether or not someone's been infected

As with most movies targeted at a generation who spend most of their time in movie theatres staring into cell phones, Warm Bodies doesn't care about continuity or character. As long as the big themes are presented with plenty of gooey, meaningful stares between gorgeous, disaffected actors, the filmmakers have done their jobs. In fairness, comparing Warm Bodies to Twilight is inaccurate: I had a great time with Twilight, laughing at the poorly acted, sophomore-year seriousness of it all. But five movies' worth is enough. This faux-zombie schlock is cold, calculated, and dull.

But it certainly didn't have to be. Hoult and Palmer have proven themselves to be pretty compelling actors in movies both great (X-Men: First Class) and unexpectedly good (Take Me Home Tonight). It's criminal that the material and the creators were unable to draw any kind of natural chemical reaction from the both of them, and instead relied on half-assed Shakespeare nods to juice their flimsy story.

To be clear, this is not a case of me nitpicking a movie to death. Warm Bodies is fundamentally flawed, and the people behind it don't demonstrate any knowledge of zombie movies (besides those that parody them) or good, big-screen romances. The screenplay's problems are as massive and weird as Keira Knightley using the word "dude" in Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice (which, thankfully, didn't happen) or Khan Noonien Singh turning into a boring, prep-school mutant (which, unfortunately, did happen). Honestly, if you can watch this thing and appreciate the tepid love story through all the contradictory garbage cluttering the screen, you have truly lost your right to complain about anything in movies ever again.

Instead of wasting your time with this un-entertaining nonsense, why not check out the four things it so desperately wants to be? For a funny, moving, modern take on ol' Will Shakespeare, dust off 10 Things I Hate About You. Hungry for some genuine zombie apocalypse drama? Check out The Walking Dead TV series. Ever wonder what an imaginative zombie comedy with heart looks like? Fido is definitely for you.

Of course, you could always watch Lucio Fulci's Zombie, which appears as a sight-gag in this movie. But make sure no Johnathan Levine fans are in the room if you do: the gross, mind-melting terror will likely put them in therapy for the rest of their ironic-moustache-growing lives.

Sure, you'll spend four times as long watching these shows, but Warm Bodies drags like a failed eight-hour experiment to begin with. Plus you'll emerge with a content, engaged brain--instead of one that's been practically gnawed on and spit out.

Note: I didn't mention one of the movie's strangest conceits. I guess the virus that wiped out mankind was created by voodoo priests. As it turns out, the reason zombies eat brains in this universe is because they get high off the memories that come gushing out with the gray matter--memories that play like HD movies set to "Random" (except, of course, when the script requires them to play in order, with perfect synching of visuals and sound). Jesus, most brains don't work with that degree of precision and clarity now, let alone after having been torn apart and stuffed in a hipster's hoodie pocket for days on end.

*Julie, for example, was in college during the outbreak, which places her somewhere between the ages of twenty-six and thirty. Why does she act like a petulant fifteen-year-old? Oh, right, because this is Romeo & Juliet. We're supposed to buy her as a world-weary badass who's spent almost a decade slaying an undead horde comprised partially of loved ones, but also as a snarky, bubble-headed rebel who thinks nothing of running away with a pack of zombies for a few days--with no thought to how her friends and family might be feeling while she plays house and listens to R's vintage record collection ("Vinyl...ssssounds...bet-ter").