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Zombie love

Undead have hearts too in latest Jonathan Levine film

By DAN LYBARGER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published February 1, 2013 at 3:03 a.m.

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Zombies Nora (Analeigh Tipton) and R (Nicholas Hoult) are starting to bond with human Julie (Teresa Palmer) in Jonathan Levine’s offbeat romantic comedy Warm Bodies.

— Screenwriter-director Jonathan Levine has an uncanny gift for milking comedy and even romance from unlikely places. With 50/50, he found just the right tone and balance to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s battle against cancer oddly but consistently funny.

With Warm Bodies, Levine finds a missing connection linking William Shakespeare, George A. Romero and Ernst Lubitsch. Believe it or not, this funny, heartwarming film, which Levine adapted from Isaac Marion’s novel, is about the walking dead. Thanks to an astonishingly dynamic performance from Nicholas Hoult (who used to be the boy in About a Boy), Levine finds warmth, wit and even souls in the staggering bodies of zombies.

R (Hoult) looks like any other young adult in a red hoodie, only his gait is awkward, and he has to live off the flesh and brains of the living. Eight years have passed since some type of calamity has turned the majority of humanity into cannibalistic, shambling drones.

R, however, has an active inner life (as Hoult’s voice-over reveals), even if his lips can only utter single words whose meanings he has long forgotten. About the only other zombie with any sort of brain activity at the long-abandoned airport is a fellow named M (Rob Corddry), who, like R, can’t remember his name, much less the random words that slowly rise from his lips.

If R has mental activity, he’s also developing a heart. He spots an armed young woman named Julie (Teresa Palmer), whose father, Grigio (John Malkovich), just happens to be the de facto leader of the living in the city. R takes an instant liking to her, and he’s not planning on making a meal of her, either.

In part, it’s because he’s just eaten her unfortunate beau, Perry (Dave Franco), but something about her rekindles long lost memories in R’s rotting head. Intensifying the attraction is the fact that dining on Perry’s brain has made R take on Perry’s recollections and his desire to protect Julie.

The strange combination of love and the digestion of another man’s gray matter gradually heals R. Far from being repulsed by the undead suitor, Julie actually returns his affection and hopes that her vindictive dad sees this as a way to end the long war between the living and the dead that has made everyone miserable.

In pairing two potentially star-crossed lovers divided by a hunger for brains, Levine walks a tightrope and thankfully never loses his footing. He has an unerring sense of how gross he can get without losing his viewers or extinguishing their desire to see the unlikely couple matched.

Cribbing from Shakespeare doesn’t exactly hurt, but Levine doesn’t let the more established story get in the way of the one he’s telling. There are nods to the Bard’s romance all through the film, but they’re delivered quickly and cleverly, and then discarded.

That’s wise because the main reason to see the film is Hoult, who manages the tricky feat of pining under a good deal of ghastly prosthetics and gradually showing signs of a beating heart. Palmer holds her own and projects just enough passion to make a story that demands heavy suspension of disbelief credible.

Thankfully, Levine consistently rewards viewers for buying into the zombie motif. It’s strange that one of the best romances in recent memory involves a heart that hasn’t beat in ages.

Warm Bodies 87 Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, John Malkovich Director: Jonathan Levine Rating: PG-13, for zombie violence and some language Running time: 97 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 02/01/2013

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