Monday, March 5, 2012

Attack the Block

Directed by Joe Cornish.
2011. Rated R, 88 minutes.
John Boyega
Jodie Whittaker
Alex Esmail
Leeon Jones
Luke Treadaway
Franz Drameh
Jumayne Hunter
Nick Frost
Danielle Vitalis
Paige Meade
Sammy Williams
Michael Ajao

When an alien crash-landing interrupts their mugging, Moses (Boyega) and his crew don’t take too kindly to the situation. After a short chase and battle, they kill the little space creature and keep its body as a trophy. Lo and behold, lots more aliens start landing all over the neighborhood. Of course, these things are a whole lot bigger, meaner and seem to be after our group of juvenile delinquents. Alien monsters chasing the crew all over “The Block” ensues.

There are other problems afoot. Sam (Whittaker), the lady they mugged, has reported the incident to the police. Yes, she happens to live in the same building as the boys. After a narrow escape from the creatures, they accidentally ram the police van they’re driving into Hi-Hatz’s (Hunter) car. He’s the drug dealer/aspiring rapper they work for and aspire to be like. None too pleased, now he’s out to kill them as well. Whatever are the boys going to do? With Sam in tow through some unforeseen circumstances, they run, hide, get tracked down, fight a few of the monsters and run again.

All of this has to come to a head at some point. When it does is when we realize that not only are we rooting for a group of wayward teens, but we have real sympathy for Moses, leader of the pack. Throughout, he maintains a very serious demeanor even as sarcasm and snarkiness swirl about. Life and death situations are met head-on. There is not time for games, even if his friends aren’t nearly as steady. Through a subtle yet remarkable transformation, Moses becomes one of recent cinema’s most unlikely heroes.

Before we get to the end, we have fun watching the chase and trying to figure out what the aliens actually want. We laugh at the younger kids Probs (Williams) and Mayhem (Ajao), so desperate to be involved. We also laugh at the stoner humor provided by Ron (Frost) and Brewis (Treadaway). We even have cause to cringe when the aliens manage to get their paws on someone. It’s not a pretty sight. Those of us old enough to remember will also notice a few references to other movies scattered about. Most notably, there’s a big homage to the original Die Hard. All of this keeps us thoroughly entertained.

Attack the Block is a tightly wound story, clocking in at less than 90 minutes. The tradeoff is we don’t get to know much about anyone’s background. We know that, like lots of other teenagers they lie to get out of the house, but that’s about it. Aside from what we learn about Moses, it’s absent the character development that could’ve elevated this from very good to great. We’re not really let in on what the authorities might know about all of this, either. They seem only concerned with capturing the teenaged criminals despite all that’s clearly visible and that someone must’ve reported. That said, it’s still a fantastic ride that brings us to the edge of our seats and keeps us there.

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