A zombie tale with a young-love twist, “Warm Bodies” puts a contemporary spin on an old story — a really old story.
This hipster horror yarn about “forbidden romance” between would-be lovers from two worlds never meant to mingle is a straight-up, post-apocalyptic reworking of “Romeo & Juliet” spiked with modern-day mojo for audiences weaned on Hollywood’s starry-eyed “Twilight” movies about love between humans and not-so-humans, as well as the rotting-corpse funhouse of TV’s hit “Walking Dead” series.
Our lead zombie (Nicholas Hoult from “X-Men: First Class” and “A Single Man”) is the narrator. Although his flesh has started to turn pale, he walks with a slow, stilted shuffle and communicates only through grunts, some of his brain is still functional — and we’re able to hear his running soliloquy of morbidly entertaining inner thoughts.
Turns out he’s pretty bummed about how things have turned out, although he’s blank on the Armageddon-ish details (Viral outbreak? Nuclear war?), and he’s forgotten his name, although he thinks it began with an “R.” So we go with that.
When we first meet R, zombie-shuffling through other shuffling zombies in a deserted, dilapidated airport that’s become zombie central, he sounds like just another mopey teenager … just one that happens to be a zombie.
“What am I doing with my life? I just want to connect,” he says. “Why can’t I connect with people? Oh … right — I’m dead.”
A few miles away, in the fortified downtown of an unnamed city that’s obviously been fighting the zombies for some time, a group of young warriors is preparing to leave on a scavenger mission for supplies. One of them is the beautiful daughter (Teresa Palmer from “I Am Number Four” and “Bedtime Stories”) of the compound’s tough-as-nails military leader (John Malkovich).
The daughter’s name is Julie.
And guess what? R and J meet outside the city walls, setting off an unexpected chain reaction that ultimately leads to a transformative experience for zombies as well as humans — and all because two crazy kids took a chance on love.
The cast also includes Rob Corddry as R’s zombie best-bud M (as in the “Romeo & Juliet” character of Mercutio), and Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s friend Nora (The Nurse, in old-school “R&J” cast terms). M and Nora get many of the best laugh lines of the movie, just as their respective characters did in the play.
Dave Franco, actor James’ younger brother, plays Julie’s boyfriend, Perry (Paris, on the stage), who appears mostly in flashback after his initial encounter with R turns him into a meal — and a recurring source of memories as R noshes on the bits of his brain later that he’s taken to-go, tapping into the stored recollections of its synapses.
Director and co-writer Jonathan Levine, who previously directed the critically acclaimed “50/50” starring Joseph Gordin-Levitt, juggles the mix of humor, heart and horror clichés with just the right touch of flip, campy trendiness for his target audience. I sense that “Warm Bodies” will be a date-night hit with teens and young adults.
But it’s also worth checking out for anyone who’d like to see just how well an old, cold bard can reheat for a new generation when given the right rub of imaginative seasoning — even if it’s about zombies.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Warm Bodies”
STARRING: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer and John Malkovich
DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Levine
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes