'Why can't I connect with people?" wonders the sensitive, interior-monologuing young man known as R in Warm Bodies. "Oh, right, it's because I'm dead."
Yes, R - played with droll panache and a Frankensteinian gait by Nicholas Hoult - is a zombie. It's been eight years since a plague turned the United States into a nation of pale, vacant-eyed walking dead, with only a shrinking band of flesh-and-blood humans, holed up in a walled city, still fighting the good fight. But R isn't like the rest of his kind. And when he saves the lovely and very much alive Julie (Teresa Palmer) from being feasted on by his cadaverous cohorts, R discovers feelings he didn't know he had. Could this be love?
Warm Bodies, adapted from Isaac Marion's novel by filmmaker Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness), is an enjoyably clever and cartoonishly gory rom-zom-com. Boy meets girl. Boy stops girl from having her brains eaten. Boy makes a case for the audio superiority of vinyl over MP3s . . . oh, we digress. (But he does make the case. Spinning Dylan and Springsteen on his trusty turntable, the awkward but earnest fellow explains how old-fashioned 331/3 r.p.m. albums have it all over digital.)
A clever conflation of emo teen romance and grisly George Romero escapades, Warm Bodies also argues for tolerance and understanding in a divided world. Is taking up arms and blowing the heads off staggering, drooling cretins really the best way to go about things? Julie's dad, the zombie-hunter General Grigio (John Malkovich, amusingly cast, and sporting bandoleros strapped across his flak jacket), certainly thinks so. But when his daughter finds herself falling for the "complicated zombie" R, and vice versa, it's like the Capulets and the Montagues all over again - only the Montagues don't have a pulse.
Hoult, a Brit, and Palmer, an Aussie, slip smoothly into American speech patterns and patter, and it's fun to watch the actor as he transitions from inarticulate, hunched-over undead to a soulful dude. There's an antic on-the-run scene, early on, with Hoult flaying his arms weirdly as he tries to keep pace with the fleet-footed Palmer. Analeigh Tipton, arching her eyebrows and getting off a few arch lines, is Julie's best friend, Nora. And Rob Corddry, seriously sallow and lumbering, is R's buddy, M. Their particular pod of zombies have taken over an airport, where R makes his home in a plane out on the tarmac. The arrivals and departure signs long ago stopped functioning. But Warm Bodies takes off.