We've had slow zombies, fast zombies and funny zombies. Now, with "Warm Bodies," romantic zombies have shuffled into the mix.
That sound you hear? It's "Night of the Living Dead" die-hards collectively retching.
If only "Warm Bodies" were as easy to dismiss as merely some sort of corporately contrived, bandwagon-hopping boondoggle. Based on a novel by Isaac Marion and written-directed by Jonathan Levine (who made one of the best films of 2011 with "50/50" as well as the critically adored "All the Girls Love Mandy Lane"), "Warm Bodies" is a sweetly funny and touching riff on "Beauty and the Beast" or "Romeo & Juliet" -- if the Beast feasted on flesh or Romeo came back from the dead.
Nicholas Hoult ("X-Men: First Class") is a lurching, lonely zombie named R (he can only remember the first letter of his name). He hangs out at the airport, grunting pleasantries to his best friend M (Rob Corddry). He spends his time collecting cool stuff from the pre-apocalypse (lots of classic-rock vinyl) and avoiding the "bonies," zombies who've completely decayed into ravenous, rampaging skeletons and lost all contact with their humanity.
But he still craves his meals to be of the two-legged variety, and when he runs across a team of young humans from the walled city on a recon mission for supplies, they make for a nice snack -- especially Perry (Dave Franco, "Scrubs"), the boyfriend of Julie (Teresa Palmer, "Love and Honor"), whom he can't bring himself to kill. Feeling something he hasn't experienced since his death, R saves her from the other ghouls, takes her back to his hiding place on a crumbling airplane, plays some John Waite and gets her thinking that maybe these zombies aren't so bad after all.
It's no happily ever after, though, as her dad (John Malkovich) is the leader of what's left of the humans and an avowed zombie slayer. And the bonies, sensing their less decomposed comrades may be flickering back to life, are on the warpath. What's young love to do?
Sure, logic -- even by zombie movie standards -- is thrown out the window. At first, the zombies are as slow as rush-hour traffic, but later, they become Olympic sprinters when the plot calls for it.
But that doesn't matter, as Levine has crafted an engaging tale of unlikely young love that, like his other films, reverberates with a heartfelt humanity. The message may be obvious -- we're all just a little undead until connecting with someone outside ourselves -- but it's still effective.
"Warm Bodies" isn't laugh-out-loud funny, but it has enough humor to save it from mawkishness, while the bonies provide the few requisite frights.
Classicists who'd rather see zombies turning humans into lunch meat rather than love objects shouldn't take this too hard. They've got new episodes of "The Walking Dead" coming soon and the epic zombie-battle blockbuster "World War Z" opening in June.
Besides, what's going to happen after the first zombie-human breakup?
A zombie on the hunt for dinner and revenge could be an awesome sight to behold.
* * *
Rating: PG-13 (for zombie violence and some language)
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer and John Malkovich
Director: Jonathan Levine
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes