Warm Bodies pulls a nifty trick in the red-hot zombie genre: It lacks a brain, though it eats plenty of them.
Geared for teens who perhaps found the Twilight series too profound, Warm Bodies (* * out of four; rated PG-13; opens nationwide Friday) is an unabashed homage to that wildly successful franchise. One of its stars, Teresa Palmer, is even done up to be a carbon copy of Kristen Stewart, the anchor of the vampire series.
But Twilight is a think piece compared with Bodies. While it's a sweet-natured take on the living dead and will tantalize kids who can't get enough girl-ghoul romance, Bodies somehow defies logic, even for a monster movie.
From the outset, it establishes itself as an undead flick with a twist: R (Nicholas Hoult) is an outsider zombie, a rebel without a pulse. He, like most of the world, has been turned into a pale, slow-shuffling creature on a flesh-only diet.
Unlike his zombie buds, though, R is pretty self-actualized. He may have lost most of his synapses and can't remember the rest of his name, but he manages a snarky voice-over, lamenting how slow and pale he's become.
He and his metabolically challenged neighbors live in an airport, where they stumble and mumble their way through the day. It's a clever setting, particularly R's apartment: a jumbo jet he's filled with classic vinyl albums and posters. While Bodies doesn't explain why the community would hole itself up in a facility without humans, it makes for great visuals. And there are nice parallels to the real world as R complains that no one interacts anymore, they're so wrapped up in their own un-lives.
And he occasionally gets to snack when the dwindling human population, led by the heartless Gen. Grigio (John Malkovich), invades the airport to hunt for supplies.
There, R meets Julie (Palmer). His body may not fully function, but his libido does. After eating her boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), R sees and immediately falls for Julie.
After that, any sense of consistency is out the window. Julie sees her man turned to brunch but doesn't flee when R approaches to flirt. She looks deep into his vacant eyes as he caresses her and paints her face with blood-stained fingers, and seems fine with being escorted to R's digs, where he hopes to save her from becoming an appetizer.
Within minutes, they're dancing to R's collection of hits from Roy Orbison, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan (the soundtrack is terrific). When they get bored, Julie teaches R how to drive on the tarmac in a BMW convertible (someone must have left the keys in it).
The film rationalizes the love story by having Julie explain that she always figured Perry would be a zombie Hot Pocket anyway, so the loss isn't that bad.
Stranger still is the reaction from the other zombies, who accept her in their community the moment they see the couple hold hands. They even begin healing themselves somehow, cracking jokes and picking up their gait.
It's a convenient setup to begin the alliance of zombies and humans against the film's real villains: "bonies," the long-dead zombies who don't care for undevolved corpses. And they can run faster than Olympic legend Usain Bolt.
There are other breaks from the genre: When a zombie eats human brains, it inherits the memories of the devoured. It makes for a handy cheat sheet as R tries to win Julie's affection. Of course, the couple won't kiss until R is sufficiently cute and human. Zombies may eat your intestines, but kissing one in mid-decomposition would be, like, gross.
Chances are, kids aren't going to care about plot holes. They want to see the girl fall for the rebel boy on the wrong side of the heartbeat.
Still, if you seek logic in your movies, this one is, in nearly every respect, a head-scratcher.