CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WARM BODIES (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: Morning in a quaint little New England village. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are walking along the deserted street, surprised that no one else is up and about)
MA: It sure is quiet around here.
LS: It’s strange, because I heard there was some kind of zombie virus going around. But I don’t see any sign of it here.
MA: Maybe it was a hoax?
(A ZOMBIE dressed in a bathrobe and slippers comes out of a house and walks toward them, to check his mailbox)
ZOMBIE: Well hello there! Nice to see some visitors to our humble little town.
LS: You can talk!
ZOMBIE: Of course I can talk. It took a lot of practice to learn again after I died, but I can talk just fine.
MA: You’re not going to try to eat us, are you?
ZOMBIE: No, of course not! Just because I’m a zombie doesn’t mean I’m uncivilized! I am a very cultured zombie and have learned to refine my tastes to more, inoffensive food sources.
LS: That’s wonderful!
MA: All is right with the world now!
ZOMBIE: Well, I must get back before my zombie wife and zombie kids wonder where I’ve gone to. Have a delightful day and welcome to Zombie Village.
(ZOMBIE goes back to his house)
MA: That sure was a pleasant conversation.
LS: Not very scary, was it?
MA: Not at all.
LS: After all the years we’ve been going to see horror movies, that’s not much of a zombie, right?
MA: You said it.
LS: Which leads us to this week’s movie review, the new zombie movie WARM BODIES, which gives us a lesson in the rejuvenating power of love!
MA: Oh, that sounds wonderful!
LS: You can cut the crap now.
MA: Thank you. I was about to throw up if I went on any further.
LS: WARM BODIES begins with the humorous witticisms of a young zombie named simply “R” (Nicholas Hoult) who delights us with some funny comments right off the bat. He wonders what he’s doing in an airport, wandering around with the other zombies, and finds his new “life” a little monotonous. Things perk up a bit when some humans infiltrate their “home,” led by Perry (Dave Franco) and Julie (Teresa Palmer), young lovers who are on a mission to get medical supplies for the humans. Julie is also the daughter of the president of what is left of the United States, Grigio (played by John Malkovich).
R and his pals attack the humans (they are hungry zombies, after all, and need some nourishment), but R instantly falls for Julie, who he goes to great lengths to save from a horrendous fate. He sneaks her past the other zombies and brings her back to a deserted airplane that he calls home (for some reason, no other zombies go there). He struggles to speak and lets her know that he is going to keep her safe. At first, Julie is terrified, but she slowly learns to trust R (who can’t remember his real name, but knows it started with an “R”).
MA: Isn’t that cute?
LS: Painfully so.
MA: Seriously, that’s the word that kept surfacing throughout this movie: cute. Isn’t this a cute movie, I could hear people saying? And it is. So, I guess if you want to see a cute zombie movie, this is the flick for you. But for the rest of us—.
LS: Can I finish this damn plot summary now?
LS: Don’t be so polite! I can’t take “polite” after this movie!
MA: Get on with the friggin summary!
LS: That’s better.
As they spend time together, R begins to change. His once-dead heart starts beating again, and he slowly becomes more and more human. And it affects his zombie friends as well, until there are a whole bunch of zombies who have working hearts and long for the tender warmth of love.
(A girl plays a harp in the background as they walk by)
Oh, I forgot to mention the “bonies,” who are zombies who have decayed to the point where they are just skeletons, and are the most vicious and least recognizably human of the creatures. The bonies kill anything alive without hesitation, but we start to see the more “human” zombies rebelling against them, even helping the living humans fight against them! How spirited!
Another conflict involves Julie getting her gung-ho zombie-killing father to wake up to the fact that the zombies are curing themselves! Will he listen to her, or just continue to blast away at any zombies he sees?
WARM BODIES is aptly titled, because it really does warm the cockles of your heart as you watch it, between the gentle humor and the sweet love story, this movie will get your heart beating again, just like those zombies!
MA: Give me a barf bag! And for the record, you’re being sarcastic, right?
LS: You think?
It’s bad enough that zombies have been coming out of our ears. The word overkill has taken on new meaning. Sure, there are some worthwhile zombie-related movies and TV shows, but they’re few and far between. Enough already! It’s gotten to the point where my first reaction to a new zombie movie is to cringe before I even see it. But that’s not the worst thing about WARM BODIES.
MA: Not at all. While I agree with you about the overkill aspect, I like the zombie movies and TV shows we’ve been inundated with, so I had a very open mind about this one.
(A “Bonie” hovers nearby, licking its skeletal chops as it closes in on MA’s head.)
MA: Not that open!
(LS pulls out a shotgun and blows Bonie away.)
MA: I could have easily enjoyed this one, but for reasons you’re about to explain, I didn’t.
LS: WARM BODIES takes zombies and mixes them with a TWILIGHT-inspired love story. Two teenagers fall in love—a zombie hunk and a blonde honey—and inspire each other to reach new heights. How completely and utterly…..nauseating. It’s bad enough I had to sit through the TWILIGHT movies to review them. To be subjected to movies that aspire to follow in TWILIGHT’s footsteps is just intolerable.
MA: I agree. And can I say this right now, at the risk of alienating some in our audience? WARM BODIES is a chick flick, pure and simple. That’s what it is. A chick flick disguised as a horror comedy.
LS: I’m offended. But WARM BODIES has something the TWILIGHT movies—for the most part—do not. A sense of humor. Instead of self-important vampires who strut around the TWILIGHT series, we’ve got a self-deprecating zombie with a heart, and he’s even got a funny friend. How original—a zombie movie with a humorous attitude. This has never been done before. SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND were obviously figments of our imagination.
MA: Well, WARM BODIES is nowhere near as funny as those movies. Or as good.
(A TEENAGE ZOMBIE in a red hoodie approaches them)
TEENAGE ZOMBIE: Hello, welcome to Zombie Village.
MA: Yeah, thanks.
TEENAGE ZOMBIE: Is there anything I can do for you gentlemen? Do you have a lawn that needs mowing? A car that needs washing? I really like to help people, and I just finished my paper route.
LS: Don’t you have some brains to go eat or something?
TEENAGE ZOMBIE: That is pretty funny, sir. No, I’m just a typical, sweet, boy-next-door zombie looking to give a helping hand to whoever needs it.
MA (throws up his hands): Oh get out of here already.
LS: Yeah, beat it you wimpy zombie, before I blow your head off.
TEENAGE ZOMBIE: You guys aren’t that friendly, are you? Well, I’ll be shuffling off.
MA: Back to our review?
LS: Yeah, the sooner we finish, the better. This village gives me the creeps.
There are several aspects of WARM BODIES that I really didn’t like.
First off, the zombies are never scary. Not for a moment. Even when a bunch of them attacks the humans and starts chomping on them in the beginning, it’s not overly gruesome or scary in any way. In fact, “R” is cracking jokes and revealing the fact that he has a conscious mind way before Julie even comes into the picture and steals his heart.
MA: Exactly! I had a problem with this too, because it defeats the point the story is making, that it was his connection to Julie that set this “cure” in motion.
LS: How are we supposed to get sucked into a dramatic transformation when it never really happens? From what I could tell, R was funny and sweet from the first scene. He doesn’t really change at all, he just gets more verbal when Julie enters his “life.”
If he had started out as a shambling, dangerous, flesh-eating monster from the beginning and slowly became self-aware and funny and sweet, it would have been much more dramatic.
LS: But the fact that he’s really all these good things from the get-go means he’s never scary and, frankly, he’s never really a zombie. Zombies aren’t self-aware. They don’t crack jokes. THEY’RE DEAD. R is more a half-dead creature than a real zombie. And the fact that his heart starts beating again so easily shows he probably was never really dead (well, not completely) to begin with. Even his name is wrong. Instead of “R,” they should have called him “PG-13,” which also happens to be the rating for this toothless monster movie.
Secondly, the “bonies,” are a joke. If they are decayed to the degree that they are just skeletons, chances are they would be very fragile and easy to defeat. They’re rotted. They’re frail. They would NOT be more formidable than their more fleshy counterparts. And the fact that the bonies are fast-moving CGI creatures that look incredibly FAKE insures that they won’t be scary. They’re just stupid.
MA: Yep, the bonies look like rejects from an old Ray Harryhausen movie.
LS: Don’t even mention Harryhausen’s name in the same breath as those fake-looking losers!
MA: And they are fake-looking, that’s for sure. I’m not sure which ones annoyed me most, the bonies in this movie or the cute werewolves in the TWILIGHT series. I think I’d go with those werewolves.
(A “BONIE” pops up from behind a bush)
BONIE: Darn it. If I wasn’t afraid my teeth would fall out, I’d bite you for saying that!
LS: Get out of here before I blow your skull off.
(BONIE runs away, and his legs fall off. His upper body crawls away)
MA (laughing): Look at him go!
LS: The acting is okay for the most part, considering the more stupid aspects of the script.
MA: To me, that’s the one thing that saved this film. The actors in it did a nice job, even if they were playing characters I didn’t like.
LS: Nicholas Hoult is likable enough as R, I guess. We’ve seen Hoult before in movies like CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010), where he played Eusebios, and, more memorably, Hank McCoy (the Beast) in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011). He’ll also be playing Jack in the upcoming JACK THE GIANT SLAYER. I have to admit, I wasn’t a big fan of his zombie character, R, but people sitting in the audience seemed to think he was great. Maybe it was those hunky good looks and piercing blue eyes that won them over? So much for rotting, ugly monsters.
MA: Don’t even get me started about the theater audience. I saw WARM BODIES in a packed theater, and they were oohing and ahhing, and giggling— I thought I was in the wrong movie, watching a re-showing of MAGIC MIKE (2012) or something. They even clapped at the end of the movie…..
LS (cringes): Oh god, it was like TWILIGHT all over again.
MA: …I clapped too – because it was over!
But getting back to Hoult, yeah, I wasn’t into his character at all, but I can’t deny that he made the guy likeable. Between R and Edward from TWILIGHT, I’d rather hang out with R. And I’m going to gag saying this, but he makes R seem like a really nice guy, the kind of guy girls would want to bring home to their parents.
LS: Sorry, but I don’t go to horror movies to see monsters who are “really nice guys” you can bring home to meet the parents.
Teresa Palmer as Julie obviously went to the Kristen Stewart School of Acting. She sports a similar sneer in some scenes, and clearly thinks she’s more of a badass than she really is (it’s clear that when her boyfriend Perry was around, she called the shots). You might have seen her in some recent movies like THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (2010) and I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011). I didn’t think she was awful in the role of Julie, and she’s pretty enough, but she didn’t really do anything all that original to make her stand out for me.
MA: And I would have liked her a lot better had she not reminded me of Kristen Stewart so much with those sneers. But for the most part I enjoyed her performance as Julie. I bought that she fell in love with R, although she did get over her old boyfriend awfully quick!
LS: Maybe that’s because her first boyfriend, Perry, was a loser. How do we know this? Because after R kills Perry during the big attack in the beginning, he takes big chunks of Perry’s brain and puts them in his pocket to eat later. Every time he munches on Perry brains, he gets these vivid flashbacks to milestones in Perry’s life. He starts to absorb Perry’s memories. And Perry isn’t really all that interesting. And those brain chunks sure do seem to last a long time. Perry must have had a pretty big brain—something I wouldn’t have guessed to look at him.
Speaking of eating brains. It is never addressed in this movie what revitalized zombies eat! Another key plot problem. As we all know, real zombies eat human flesh, and are overwhelmed by a violent need to feed. Our pal R must be on a diet, because he doesn’t seem to be controlled by his hunger all that much. In fact, once he meets Julie, he pretty much forgets all about eating (except for those occasional brain snacks). After he starts to “cure” himself, he doesn’t eat at all. So much for overwhelming urges—which could have provided a powerful dramatic conflict—to love the girl or eat her. This never comes up with R.
MA: He’s just too nice a guy for conflict.
LS: So what do zombies who are becoming human again eat? Do they eat brains? Do they eat normal food? Do they eat raw hamburger? That would have been something interesting to explore. But the movie just ignores all that. Just like it ignores most dramatic elements that would have made the script more interesting.
But back to the cast.
Rob Corddry plays R’s friend “M,” and he’s one of the few characters I liked at all, even though he’s not all that “fleshed out.” But it’s Rob Corddry, and I like him, and he has the funniest line in the movie, even if he’s relegated to the boring sidekick role here and not given a helluva lot to do except help his buddy out. Most people will know Corddry from the movie HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (2010) and as Dr. Blake Downs on the current Cartoon Channel/Adult Swim live-action series CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL, where’s he’s pretty funny. He was even a member of the UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE (TV series from 1998 – 2000).
MA: Yep, I liked Corddry too, but as much as I liked his character, he was nowhere near as funny as he could have been, which goes back to the problems this movie has with humor. It’s all very light, and inoffensive, I might add.
LS: John Malkovich, a normally strong actor, is pretty much sleepwalking through his role as President Grigio. Which makes sense, because he could play such a one-dimensional character in his sleep, and proves it.
MA: Can you say, ‘paycheck?’
LS: Definitely. You’d be better off renting BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999), the underrated RIPLEY’S GAME (2002), or even CON-AIR (1997) for better Malkovich performances.
MA: I also liked Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s best friend Nora. I thought she had some of the funnier lines in the movie, and there was a quirky honesty about her character which I enjoyed.
LS: I liked her, too. It’s funny, I liked her and Corddry—the two “sidekicks” —better than the nominal leads here.
As a horror movie, WARM BODIES isn’t scary and isn’t particularly horrific in any real way.
MA: It’s about as horrific as MAMMA MIA! (2008). In fact, Pierce Brosnan’s singing in that movie is scarier than anything in WARM BODIES!
LS: Some of the characters are zombies (or so we’re told – I still say they’re not really zombies, since many of them are self-aware and non-threatening from the start), but that’s not enough to make it a horror movie. As a romance, WARM BODIES is trite and annoying, and completely unoriginal (see the aforementioned TWILIGHT). As a comedy, WARM BODIES is just too toothless to have any kind of edge to it, and too sweet-natured to really have anything satirical to say about zombies or teen romances masquerading as horror movies.
The script by Jonathan Levine (who also directed), based on the novel by Isaac Marion, fluctuates from being tolerable to being completely irritating.
I give this one one and a half knives. Not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but not exactly something I would recommend to anyone, either. And it’s kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back for me after watching all those awful TWILIGHT movies. I’m really, completely sick of teen romance movies where one of the lovers is a monster. I think I liked this one a little better than the typical TWILIGHT flick, but not much more. The concept is now beyond irritating. And I am so glad we decided not to review BEAUTIFUL CREATURES when it comes out this Valentine’s Day, since it’s about a teenage witch who falls in love with a mortal. I am SOOOOOO sick of this teen romance pablum!
MA: Same here. And the problem with these movies, as you’ve already said, is they’re too trite. There’s nothing to them, and so you’re left with watching very light and weak material that just doesn’t resonate, and as a result, doesn’t satisfy.
I didn’t like WARM BODIES either, for all of the same reasons you gave, but I did like it a bit better than you did, mostly because I warmed up to (off camera there is a collective groan) R and his feelings towards Julie. R is a fairly entertaining character in a mildly nice guy sort of way, but he would have been funnier if it had been more difficult for him to win Julie over. Think Woody Allen as a zombie.
LS: Now that would be hilarious!
MA: Here, instead, it’s more like Tom Cruise as a zombie. He’s not going to have a difficult time winning over the girl.
LS: And he obviously won over lots of people in the audience for the same reason. I’m sure this movie will do well at the box office. But I still don’t like it.
MA: That being said, R is not an arrogant Tom Cruise-type character. He’s self-conscious and vulnerable, but everything he touches ends up smelling like roses. So even though he’s a “nice guy” and even though his running comments throughout the movie are somewhat entertaining and made me chuckle a couple of times, there’s no real conflict here, everything comes easy for him. Not the best recipe for strong storytelling.
Also, there’s a reason nice guys don’t make the best movie characters. They’re boring.
I liked Julie a little less, but at least I believed in her feelings towards R, and I also believed in R’s feelings towards her. This is another advantage this film had over the TWILIGHT movies. In TWILIGHT, everybody loves Bella, and for the life of me, I could never understood why. At least here, Julie isn’t always brooding and depressed. She seemed likeable enough, and I could see what R saw in her. I bought into their romance. I just wish it hadn’t been the main topic of an entire movie. Had it been one part of a more entertaining film, had there been more about M for example, this might have been a better movie. Then again, maybe not.
For those reasons, I didn’t hate this one, but I certainly can’t recommend it.
I give it two knives.
Okay, we’re done here. Let’s get out of here before I start throwing up.
(Zombie approaches them.)
ZOMBIE: Leaving so soon? We’re about to have a poker party. Won’t you join us?
MA: Really? A zombie poker party? What’s next? Zombie zumba?
ZOMBIE: That’s across the street.
(LS shoots Zombie in the head.)
LS: Now, so are your brains.
MA: That wasn’t very nice, but somehow, in this case, it felt right.
(Other zombies start coming out of their houses to see what is going on)
LS: Let’s get out of here before they try killing us with kindess.
(LS & MA flee.)
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives WARM BODIES ~ two knives!
LL Soares gives WARM BODIES ~one and a half knives.