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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Warm Bodies' a modern Romeo and Juliet with zombies

WARM BODIES

(PG-13)

3 stars out of 4

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NICHOLAS HOULT and TERESA PALMER star in WARM BODIES Ph: Jonathan Wenk (c) 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

Usually moving a movie from the previous summer to the next winter is an automatic red flag/kiss-of-death but in the case of "Warm Bodies" it makes no discernible difference. It's not really a warm weather flick, which is good as a number of the characters are no longer warm-blooded, so to speak.

At first glance, the movie looks like little more than a zombie version of "Twilight," (it even shares the same studio/distributor) but quickly escapes that dreaded tag thanks to its considerable smarts and acid-tongue-in-cheek sarcasm. Save for an overly gooey last act, it never takes itself too seriously yet is still able to work in more than few astute sociological observations, political metaphors and makes a big nod to a major piece of classic literature.

We immediately know we're in for something completely different with the opening title sequence when lead character R (Nicholas Hoult) explains why he's lumbering aimlessly through an abandoned airport amongst other undead. He's R because he can't remember his name and can only grunt, but his off-screen narration is crystal clear and dry as a bone.

We're not sure just how long it's been since the great zombie epidemic started and it really doesn't matter. What we do know is that there are very few humans left and they've barricaded themselves inside a city that vaguely looks like L.A. The remaining inhabitants have erected a four-story wall to keep the zombies out which seems to be working fairly well.

Recognizing the humans have to make an occasional trip beyond the wall to raid the local corner drug store for much needed meds, R and a dozen or so others pull off a surprise attack on a salvage group that includes Julie (Teresa Palmer, looking more than a little like Kristen Stewart from "Twilight"). The daughter of the human leader (John Malkovich), Julie is involved in a fuzzy, unclear romantic relationship with Perry (Dave Franco, younger brother of James) whose brains are soon wolfed down wantonly by R. After eating said grey matter, R starts to experience Perry's memories and in particular, his better times with Julie.

In the movie's biggest chunk of kind-of-hard-to-swallow disbelief suspension, R doesn't kill Julie but rather takes her back to zombie land and she puts up little to no fight. For days they hole up in an airplane where he's been squatting and they listen to '80s music (on vinyl) and communicate as well as someone who can talk and someone who can't, can. It should be mentioned here that the soundtrack is absolutely killer. The inclusion of both Springsteen and Dylan lets us know the producers spent beaucoup bucks for the tunes and that investment paid off in spades.

The classic piece of literature "Warm Bodies" kind of sort of apes is "Romeo and Juliet" but unless you're familiar with that plays' more intricate details and are really looking for them, the association will escape you. R is Romeo, Julie is Juliet, the humans and the zombies are the Montague's and the Capulet's, R's friend M (Rob Corddry) is Mercutio, Analeigh Tipton as Julie's confidant Nora is the Nurse and there is a balcony scene but the ending is vastly different. "Warm Bodies" concludes with the possibility of a sequel but that would be a supremely ill-advised idea.

Where the story eventually winds up pushes the disbelief envelope even further (especially by the zombie movie yardstick) but the loopy humor and budding romance between R and Julie ultimately overrides logic and turns "Warm Bodies" into the unlikely best date movie of this new year. It's a safe bet it will never get close to doing stratospheric "Twilight" type box office numbers which is fine and dandy. It didn't cost nearly as much and it gets to keep its soul. (Summit)