The joke of the new movie “Warm Bodies” can be described this way: A young man experiences all the angst and heartache of dewy first love — but he’s a zombie!
This knee-slapper is repeated over the course of the next 90 minutes, with amazingly little variation. “Warm Bodies” is slick and well executed, but a chore to sit through, and becomes even more unbearable when the tongue-in-cheek tone gives way to sincerity.
The apocalypse has happened. Whatever crazy plague broke out, it unleashed a world of zombies upon the world, and the humans are huddled behind a wall that keeps the undead out.
This wall takes quite a bit of criticism during the movie, and I’m afraid is meant to reflect possible allegories for the world we live in today. Unfortunately for the allegory, a big giant wall around a city in the midst of a zombie apocalypse actually sounds like a very wise idea.
Anyway, the hero. He can’t remember his name (it begins with an R, he’s pretty sure), and he doesn’t feel emotions, and he really can’t speak beyond the usual gurgling/moaning expected from a stalking zombie.
R is played by Nicholas Hoult, who was the kid in “About a Boy” a decade ago; he’s very good with the shambling gait.
While he’s eating brains one day, R gets a sort of feeling about a human, Julie (Teresa Palmer) in his proximity. Their love story, which, let’s face it, has some distinct challenges, forms the core of the movie, interrupted by occasional zombie attacks.
You recall there were no zombie attacks in “Romeo and Juliet,” which “Warm Bodies” periodically references. But the movie does have a balcony scene, and Julie’s politician father (John Malkovich, looking very weary) stands in for the original bickering parents.
Director Jonathan Levine, who made “50/50,” is very shrewd about playing this out. I haven’t read the source novel, written by Seattle author Isaac Marion, so I don’t know whether the jokiness of the movie is drawn directly from the book, but it sure is relentless.
R’s voiceover narration carries most of that (“Don’t be creepy, don’t be creepy,” the zombie tells himself as he tries to pitch woo toward his beloved), but a few zingers are given to R’s buddy, played by Rob Corddry, including the appropriation of a classic line from “Say Anything…” that brought down the house.
A preview audience laughed and sighed at all the right moments, which shows how Levine understands the beats of something like this. If you like the movie’s joke, maybe you won’t find it as tedious as I did.
“Warm Bodies” (2 stars)
A zombie lad (Nicholas Hoult) staggers around an airport and feels the stirrings of emotion for a human (Teresa Palmer). This zombie-apocalypse romance has a single joke, and repeats it with deadening regularity, although it also expects you to takes its sincerity straight at the end. Tedious.
Rated: PG-13, for language, violence.
Showing: Alderwood Seven, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.