FS, Contributing Writer
A zombie version of Romeo and Juliet might sound like a terrible idea – okay, does sound like a terrible idea. But in Warm Bodies (wide release), writer-director Jonathan Levine pulls it off with a surprising degree of charm.
Nicholas Hoult does a remarkable turn as R (he can’t remember his full name), one of the “Corpses” reduced to semi-living status by an unexplained plague. A self-deprecating dude who ambles about the decaying cityscape, wryly commenting on his unhappy condition in voice-over while searching for human brains (and their accompanying memories) to consume, he experiences a shiver of warmth when he encounters Julie (Teresa Palmer), who has ventured from the walled compound built by her father to search for supplies.
That initiates a literally halting romance between the two, during the course of which R gradually recovers his humanity while Juliet struggles to convince her father that the Corpses are reverting in time to save her pallid beau from meeting a fate worse than undeath.
Warm Bodies could have been a disaster. But by cleverly tweaking the Shakespearean template and replacing the deadly earnestness of inter-species romances like Twilight with slyly knowing humor, it becomes instead an admittedly goofy but amiable take on familiar but durable themes.
Novelist Donald E. Westlake’s character of Parker (wide release), a crook with a code of honor who takes vengeance on those who double-cross him, has been played on screen in the past by Lee Marvin (Point Blank) and Mel Gibson (Payback). In Taylor Hackford’s new incarnation, it’s Jason Statham, who doesn’t try to conceal his British accent except for affecting a very bad Texan drawl while in supposed disguise.
The picture is an efficient but soulless action exercise in which Parker masterminds a heist at the Ohio State Fair, only to be left for dead by the rest of the gang. He recovers, determined to wipe out his old comrades, tracking them to Palm Beach where they’re plotting another big score.
Parker is well made, but it’s impossible to care for any of the characters, and in the end, while you can admire its craftsmanship, the relentless violence is apt to grow tiresome, not to mention rather repulsive.
“The Last Stand”
Looking not so fresh after his stint in politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to return to action-movie stardom with The Last Stand (wide release).
He plays a small-town Arizona sheriff whose mettle is tested to the limit when a Mexican drug kingpin, just escaped from federal prison, tries to cross the border by having his army of brutal minions literally build a bridge in Ah-nuld’s county, over which he can drive the souped-up Corvette he’s stolen to serve as his getaway vehicle.
Schwarzenegger is surrounded by second bananas designed to give the picture some comic spark – most notably Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville, who plays a local yokel with a barnful of illegal weapons the lawman wants to use against the villains. Knoxville is a terrible actor, but his non-performance is overshadowed by the tastelessness of glorifying such a fellow in light of the many recent incidents of gun violence.
Except for a few jabs about his advanced age, the Governator plays out the ludicrous script with stone-faced solemnity. It’s an inauspicious attempt to resume his former career in pictures.
Dustin Hoffman assumes the director’s hat for the first time with Quartet (Angelika), a cheerily old-fashioned comedy about a foursome of once-great opera singers at a British home for retired musicians. The oldsters reminiscence and bicker while the three long-time residents try to convince the new arrival, a haughty diva, to join them in singing together at the home’s annual fundraiser.
In effect the movie is nothing more than a geriatric version of the musty old “let’s put on a show!” formula. But the location is gorgeous, the music irresistible, and the cast – led by the delightfully snooty Maggie Smith as the newcomer and Tom Courtenay as the former husband still smarting over her long-ago infidelity – couldn’t be bettered.
The result is an entirely predictable but winning exercise in schmaltz that should certainly appeal to everyone who found The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to his liking.