Not every movie has to homer it out of the park.
“Warm Bodies,” a surprisingly genial and clever little zombie-teen romance mash-up, qualifies as a solid base hit. And that’s plenty good enough for a release during the winter of every moviegoer’s discontent.
Based on a 2011 novel of the same name by Isaac Marion, this tale of star-crossed teenage lovers, one of whom is inconveniently a member of the walking dead, is very loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
When we first meet R (Nicholas Hoult), our teen hero, he’s lurching through an abandoned airport, his eyes vacant and unfocused but hurting nonetheless. “Why can’t I connect with people?” he asks in a voiceover narration. “Oh, right, it’s because I’m dead.”
There has been an apocalyptic plague and the world is divided between the Living Humans, the Corpses (that would be R and the rest of the stumbling zombies with whom he keeps company) and the Boneys — zombies turned vicious walking skeletons that’ll prey on anything and everything.
R first encounters Julie (Teresa Palmer) after killing and feasting on her bossy beau’s brains. This means he now has absorbed all of the dead youth’s memories, including about Julie. Smitten, R saves and shelters her from the other zombies who would make a meal of her, and he soon finds himself beginning to feel human emotions again.
To borrow from another of the Bard’s masterworks, the course of true love never runs smoothly. There are a couple of major obstacles blocking the way to happiness for the young couple: Julie has an over-protective, zombie-hating dad (John Malkovich) and the Boneys are on the warpath.
Director-screenwriter Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness” and “50/50”) has efficiently constructed his film, managing to supply humor, action and a hint of pathos as he moves the plot briskly along. He gets an especially appealing performance from Hoult (“X-Men: First Class”), his young British-born star.
Hoult has perfected a hilarious, stumbling zombie run, his arms hanging uselessly at his side, that bespeaks a gift for physical comedy to go along with his yearning, sensitive guy good looks.
The other standout in the cast is Analeigh Tipton, an endearingly bug-eyed comic actress who perks up her every scene as Julie’s best friend. Between her appearance here and equally noteworthy earlier supporting turns in “Crazy, Stupid Love” and “Damsels in Distress,” she’s fast proving herself a tasty second banana. Maybe it’s time to give her a more prominent place in the fruit bowl.