"Don't be creepy, don't be creepy, don't be creepy," the lovesick zombie begs himself as he stares, slack-jawed, at the very blond, very alive object of his affection.
His name is "R" (he thinks) and he's your average twentysomething zombie. He spends his days groaning and shuffling through an airport, dining on people meat or collecting trinkets to decorate the cluttered "home" he's made in an abandoned jetliner. He's conflicted about all the killing but, considering his only way to reconnect to the world is to download a human's memories by devouring their brains, he'll take it. That is, until he locks eyes with shotgun-wielding Julie and falls head-over-undead-heels in love.
In a movie genre already clogged with teens trysting with milquetoast vampires and hunky werewolves, forcing zombies to woo humans sounds like a calculating supernatural romance cash grab. But director Jonathan Levine's goofy wisp of a film, Warm Bodies, based on Seattle author Isaac Marion's 2011 novel, is a charming lurch through zombieland that bypasses the usual headshots to aim at the heart—and scores a surprisingly direct hit.
It helps that Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy, X-Men: First Class) is the world's cutest corpse: all mussed hair, starburst eyes and deep-shadowed lids…and a little mouth slime. After saving Julie from his "friends" (including a hilariously marble-mouthed Rob Corddry), he courts her with canned fruit cocktail and Coronas, struggling to connect through grunts and cuts from his scavenged record collection—including Springsteen's "Hungry Heart." Men do a lot of strange things for a date, but this is the only case (so far) of a dude eating a girl's boyfriend's brain in order to get to know her better.
When Julie (Teresa Palmer, in Kristen Stewart's oversized army jacket from Twilight) starts to warm up to her undead suitor, he, in turn, remembers how to be human. Eventually the pair must face skeletal, fury-filled zombies called "bonies" and, even scarier, John Malkovich (as the human resistance leader and Julie's dad).
Let's be clear: This is a popcorn flick. The CGI effects are laughable, and it takes a while to adjust to the willfully cheeseball tone, but once it clicks, it's irresistible. In this world, all you need is love. And sometimes a shotgun.
Critic's Grade: B+
SEE IT: Warm Bodies is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, Clackamas, Eastport, Bridgeport, Tigard.