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Imagine a "Twilight" where the panting, flirting teens were in on the joke, where the gulf between them was more about communication skills than supernatural schisms.
Where one teen had really bad skin.
That's "Warm Bodies," a funny teen romance set against the aftermath of the Zombie Apocalypse. Jonathan ("50/50") Levine has turned Isaac Marion's teen romance novel into an often amusing tongue-in-cheek romantic comedy - tongue in cheek, and brains in teeth. Chewy, tasty brains.
Nicholas Hoult ("Clash of the Titans," "X-Men: First Class") is the perfectly droll zombie narrator who staggers about with the usual teen angst.
"Why can't I connect with people? Oh, right. I'm dead."
He can't remember his name, can't justify his means of survival - eating the brains, etc., of the few remaining humans. ("At least I'm conflicted about it.")
And he's lonely. He holes up in an abandoned business jet and listens to old love songs ("Missing You") in his battery powered turntable.
And then he spots "her." And if you've seen Teresa Palmer in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" or "I Am Number Four," you get it - gorgeous enough to reanimate the dead.
Julie (Palmer) is the daughter of the benevolent dictator (John Malkovich) of the local walled enclave of humans, one of the young people considered wily and nimble enough to be sent out foraging among the walking dead - medical supplies, canned foods, the things that will keep the human race going just a little bit longer.
The zombies get the drop on Julie and her team. Her boyfriend (Dave Franco) is our hero zombie's latest meal.
Zombie boy rescues, or kidnaps Julie, depending on your point of view. He strains to form a word, to speak. He plays her his vinyl. And since he's eaten her boyfriend, he's absorbed their memories together. If he can ever get this speech thing back, if he can ever manage more than a sound, much less a syllable ("Rrrrrrrr"), maybe he's got a shot.
After all, he's "R." And she's Julie, which is short for something Shakespearean. Maybe they're fated to be together, no matter that her dad wants to blow his head off on general principle.
Levine shoots the action scenes in brisk strokes, and the romantic ones in warm, extreme close-ups. And there are some funny lines, such as R's observations about his "race." "God, we move slow."
But that's not accurate. Zombies are, traditionally, lurching wanderers. But not here. When they come for you, you'd better have your track shoes on.
The same can't be said for the movie, which is deadly slow, as if Levine was worried teenagers might miss the jokes, the allusions and the "message" if he went too fast. He landed Malkovich as his semi-villain, and got nothing funny out of him. At least Rob Corddry (as a zombie "friend") makes a funny, wordless impression. He and Hoult deliver the simple, affecting message of Marion's novel, and do it with humor.
Don't judge a corpse by his cover.