Reporting Eric Henderson
Sometimes when I write movie blogs covering more than one weekend release, I bend over backwards to try to link the two.
This isn’t one of those times. Warm Bodies, a gently satirical zombie romance aimed at the hearts of Twi-hards everywhere, and Bullet to the Head, a “back to basics if by ‘basics’ you mean nothing particularly of interest at all apart from men getting extra cozy with their artillery” action flick starring the recently exhumed Sylvester Stallone, are surprisingly natural bookends on the state of masculinity.
Warm Bodies stars the apple-cheeked Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy, A Single Man, two roles that offer all the expanse their respective titles imply) as R, a zombie slacker who, while shuffling aimlessly in trashed shopping malls and airports, muses to himself what he might have been before the entire world went to hell in an apparent epidemic.
As his first-person voiceover suggests, R is just a typical teenage boy stuck in a dead person’s body, which gets extra problematic when he falls in love with Julie, a living teen girl whose father is the dictator of what little remains of the civilized world. He saves her from getting devoured by his fellow zombie mob and stashes her away in his jumbo jet hideaway. Her flourishing interest in his packrat world calls to mind WALL-E showing Eva his collection of lighters, sporks and VHS copy of Hello, Dolly.
50/50 director Jonathan Levine’s emo savvy adaptation of the cult novel of the same name navigates between comedic mayhem and un-ironic romanticism with little resistance from either camp, and even manages to forge a burgeoning horror-tinged romance that doesn’t immediately make you want to curse the day Stephenie Meyer saved EdwardAndBella.doc to her hard drive.
It’s certainly not without its flaws. The PG-13 rated zombies are inevitably anesthetized, and there are about six or seven too many needle-drop music cues, though their ubiquity at least sets up one of the movie’s biggest laughs (when Julie sets out to give R a zombie makeover so as to pass for living inside humanity’s concrete fortress).
But as an update on the Romeo & Juliet template for the finger-mustache-and-bacon set, Warm Bodies is a surprisingly credible plea on behalf of sentiment and emotional dependence.
Warm Bodies‘ hero, whose central coldness melts away as his heart begins to beat for another, could be an avatar for the future of masculinity. At approximately 107 years old, Sylvester Stallone serves as a handy basis for comparison.
In fact, the main thing Sly’s new movie Bullet to the Head has going for it is its utter lack of empathy, its wholesale ratification of an all but extinct code of masculinity.
Directed by Walter Hill (whose The Driver and The Warriors alone earned him a permanent spot in the action hall of fame), Bullet introduces us to the sadder-but-hardly-wiser hitman Jimmy Bobo, a New Orleans grunt who lives his life eyes to the ground, finger on the trigger. With as many arrests on his record as hours he’s logged getting his back and shoulders tatted up, Jimmy clearly eats hard knocks for breakfast.
When he walks into a double cross that leaves his partner dead and puts him behind a particularly roid raging counter-assassin’s 8 ball, Jimmy reluctantly joins forces with a naïve federal agent whose fondness for using his smart phone to settle crimes in lieu of brute force earns the post-maturely beefy Jimmy’s ire.
Old school machismo takes hits on all sides here. The movie’s script is itself a blunt object, Hill’s direction is nowhere near as taut as it was in his prime, Stallone’s diction has moved beyond merely problematic into some weird form of verbal kabuki. You know the overall apparatus is pretty creaky when the contributions of Christian Slater seem fresh and invigorating in comparison.
And yet, there’s no pretense to speak of, and definitely no shame in Sly’s game. Being a man means never having to say “uh, sorry.”