Laughter is often a mysterious thing. Why is it, I asked myself during the preview screening of Warm Bodies, that the row of people sitting to my right are roaring with laughter at a moment when I’m not doing much more than merely smiling in response to the onscreen antics?
I understood the movie’s humor. I even thought its premise was clever enough, and yet this zombie romantic comedy (or should it be “romantic zombie comedy?”) left me mostly silent, despite the plentiful giggles and guffaws in the theater around me.
I think that’s because the gags are all one-note, like a Saturday Night Live sketch that goes on for many minutes more than it should, beating you repeatedly over the head with its single joke. Here the idea is a variation of the classic boy-meets-girl story. It’s zombie-meets-girl.
The hero (Nicholas Hoult), who can only remember that his first name began with the letter R, is undead. He spends most of his days shuffling around an airport along with many others of his kind, periodically making trips into the nearby city in search of living human flesh to feast upon. Yet R can feel that something is changing inside of him (like all zombies, he mostly just grunts, but he’s got a thoroughly articulate interior monologue). He’s feeling dissatisfied with his isolated lifestyle, unable to connect with the zombies around him.
Meanwhile Julie (Teresa Palmer, who looks and acts like a poor man’s Kristen Stewart) is a very-much-alive girl within the protective walls of the post-apocalyptic city where humanity’s survivors, led by her no-nonsense father (John Malkovich), struggle to fend off the zombie hordes. When she and her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco, who is a poor man’s version of his famous brother James) take a team of young adults to gather medicinal supplies beyond the wall, they end up overrun by a group of zombies, including R.
When R sees Julie for the first time, a certain organ in his chest gets jump-started. He further feels connected to her after feasting on her boyfriend’s brains. (Eating brains, we learn, brings access to the memories of that person.) R protects her from his fellow zombies. He takes her back to his private hiding spot at the airport, inside the cabin of a passenger jet.
From there, I’ll bet you could sketch out the remainder of the screenplay yourself, since the plot arc is that of almost every romantic comedy ever. R comes to feel and act more and more human again, and Julie goes from fearing him to having feelings for him. Of course her no-nonsense father gets involved to put their romance, and the possible bright new future for humanity that it portends, at risk.
I don’t mean to pick on the plot too much. Plot is beside the point in romantic comedies anyway, as well as the romance too, since it’s usually paint-by-numbers. The question is: is it funny?
The idea of an angst-ridden, emotionally conflicted zombie is amusing. R’s attempts to clean himself up and act more like a real live boy are as well. He has some nice moments with his best (zombie) friend, played by Rob Corddry. Early in the film they have a funny “conversation” that consists entirely of stares and grunts.
But from then on, the movie just keeps shuffling erratically along.