It's pretty miserable to watch Nicholas Hoult play a zombie -- at least at first. In Warm Bodies, he plays a disgusting, undead sad-sack who calls himself R because he can't remember his full name. He's dirty, he drools blood, he has crooked teeth and he shuffles around really slowly. Really slowly. He and the rest of the zombies who have taken over what looks to be most of Earth inch around blankly, only picking up speed to devour the brains of remaining uninfected humans. Sounds typical for a zombie movie.
At first, it feels like director Jonathan Levine (50/50), who also wrote the script, made the film too cute for its own good by inserting a snarky consciousness into a random zombie character. The conceit is that R still has a heart as well as a brain, which is how we're treated to his pithy, post-adolescent narration. And for a half an hour, it's annoying. We have to watch him stagger around like a beaten-up drunk grunting at his one friend (Rob Corddry) for communication.
When R falls in love with an uninfected girl named Julie (Teresa Palmer) while he's eating the brains of her boyfriend (an unimpressive Dave Franco -- sorry bro, we still haven't forgotten you peed your pants in Superbad), it doesn't feel like the movie's getting any better.
And then ... it just does. Nothing amazing by any means -- the predictability is still rampant (a love story between two characters named R and Julie? Hmm ... ) and never are we treated to the rambunctious fun and energy of Zombieland, the frights of Dawn of the Dead or the serious critique of humanity of 28 Days Later. But that's because Warm Bodies wants to actively counter the conventions of the zombie canon. Warm Bodies is, for better or worse, not like any other zombie movie you've seen.
R is getting better, so as he slowly becomes able to muscle out parts of his personality for Julie to see, the narration and overall premise of the movie become more credible. He tells Julie he prefers records over MP3's because of sound quality and he's able to channel his feelings through an almost hilariously literal selection of songs for her (loved hearing "Hungry Heart," "Shelter From The Storm" and especially Guns n' Roses's "Patience," but you're really not leaving much open to interpretation with those choices). It all plays out basically how you'd expect, but it's cute, and that's more than I can say for any other zombie film.
(Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language)
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.