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Star-crossed lovers (and zombies)

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Warm Bodies' strikes balance between humor and horror

Anyone who has gone to the movies over the past few years has seen the explosion in zombie movies. Hollywood's recent fascination with the genre has led to a glut of entertainment featuring the walking dead. Some of these movies have treated the subject with humor, others with deadly seriousness. But until now, none have used the genre as a foundation for romantic comedy.

If you're a zombie fan, chances are that 'Warm Bodies' piqued your interest. It's a new take on a genre that has been rapidly descending into the realm of the clich. It's a new take and quite a good one at that.

R (Nicholas Hoult, 'X-Men: First Class') is a zombie. He spends his days shambling through an airport, aimlessly shuffling through his days. However, he does not share the mindlessness of his brethren; he is self-aware and self-deprecating. While he is subject to the same basic needs and wants as his fellow zombies (i.e. brains), he retains enough of his old self to be conflicted about it. He even has a best friend in fellow zombie M (Rob Corddry, 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'), with whom he has the occasional grunted heart-to-heart.

It all changes for R when he, M and some others go out in search of food. They stumble upon a foraging group from one of the last known outposts of humanity a group that includes Julie (Teresa Palmer, 'Wish You Were Here'), a young woman who also just happens to be the daughter of the outpost's leader (John Malkovich, 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon').

Something awakens in R, and rather than devouring Julie, he takes her with him to keep her safe. The two make a connection in the days that follow as R finds himself falling for Julie and slowly but steadily regaining his humanity. As Julie realizes that R is more than just a 'corpse,' it soon becomes clear that something far bigger than either of them is happening something that may have important implications for the future of the human race.

Zombie comedy has been done before ('Shaun of the Dead;' 'Zombieland'), but we've never really seen this sort of blending of the romantic comedy and zombie tropes. What's astonishing about it is that it works. It really works.

Writer/director Jonathan Levine has already shown the ability to find humor in dark situations, most notably in his excellent '50/50.' We've been conditioned to see zombies as nothing more than monsters; Levine turns that on its head by showing us a world where the walking dead might not be all that different from the rest of us.

Perhaps the most fun (at least for me) were the overt homages to Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet.' From the character names to an honest-to-goodness balcony scene, nods to 'R&J' are everywhere. The idea of bringing the epitome of romantic tragedy into this zom-com is quite frankly brilliant.

Of course, none of it works without standout performances from the two leads. Hoult is wonderful throughout the contrast between his zombie physicality and his earnest voiceover-delivered internal monologue is delightful, and his gradual evolution is wonderfully engaging. Palmer's transition from fearful captive to fellow traveler is smooth and believable. The chemistry between the two is palpable. Corddry and Malkovich also give outstanding performances.

'Warm Bodies' strikes a wonderful balance between horror and humor. It doesn't seem like it should work, yet somehow it all does. It's a love story for the horror fan and a horror film for the rom-com set - sometimes sweet, sometimes scary and genuinely engaging throughout.

4 out of 5

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