Review: "Attack the Block"

Occasionally I am fortunate enough to draw passes to a screening of a film before it opens in wide release. It’s always a bit of a thrill because I feel like an actual member of the press and it’s cool to have someone else pay for my movie obsession. I never know, however, what kind of crowd I’m going to encounter at one of these screenings. I have been to screenings in which the number of critics, paid or unpaid, far outnumber the casual moviegoers. Other screenings, though, have brought out the craziest collection of movie watchers the world has ever seen. I’ve had some of my best film going experiences in a screening and some of my worst. Unfortunately the screening for “Attack the Block” fell into the latter category. Never in my life have I been surrounded by a bigger group of loudmouthed, foul smelling, obnoxious toolbags in a setting that didn’t involve the DMV or a Nickleback concert. I’m not above telling someone to shut it or to stop texting during a movie but in this case, I, the considerate movie goer, was in the vast minority so I just had to grin (read: “grit my teeth and mutter curses under my breath”) and bear it. Because of this, my attention was placed only half on the screen and half on the laughing buffoon next to me who smelled more of booze than anyone who is not currently homeless. Therefore, should you see “Attack the Block” and disagree with my review, I ask that all of the blame be placed upon Cinemark 17 on Webb Chapel and the brutally distracting crowd they assembled.

While a group of young London thugs are in the midst of a robbery, a mysterious object crashes into a nearby car. Upon further investigation, Moses (John Boyega), the group’s leader, is attacked by a strange animal. After chasing it down and beating it to death, the group realizes that they have an alien on their hands. Juiced up from their triumph, Moses and his crew take the alien creature back to their apartment building (a low-rent complex that borders on a slum) and store the body in the pot room of the building’s drug dealer. Shortly thereafter, they begin to see more falling balls of fire and their neighborhood is soon infested with vicious, eyeless gorilla-bear creatures that seem to find Moses and his gang wherever they go. With no one else to help, the young crew is forced to battle against the extraterrestrial beasts with an assortment of fireworks, kitchen knives, and a showpiece samurai sword.

“ATB” falls right in line with the better works of executive producer Edgar Wright, such as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” It is an alien invasion-comedy that transitions into more of a horror-comedy as the action unfolds. These three aspects come together beautifully and at no point does “ATB” become too bogged down in one genre or the other. Meaning, it isn’t overly funny to the point of becoming an out-and-out comedy but neither does it delve too deeply into a heavy sci-fi plotline or a gory blood fest. The blending of the different genres in a movie like this is always the tough part (see: “Cowboys and Aliens”) and writer/director Joe Cornish displays a sly ability to do just that and makes “ATB” a film that should appeal to a wide range of nerdy fanboys. The well-crafted story is wild fun, easily engaging, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it witty, it is much smarter than you might think.

Our young heroes (or anti-heroes if you prefer) are, for the most part, highly enjoyable. Their thick accents and un-Americanized lingo is at times hard to understand but generally quite engrossing. You have to pay close attention to the dialogue or you’ll miss the better jokes (the would-be hobo next to me probably forced me to miss about 15 percent of these utterances) and “ATB” is the better for this. Boyega, in particular, shows some real promise and does a good job of displaying the depth of his character without allowing his portrayal to become overly cumbersome. There is very little backstory or character development within this film but that shouldn’t be construed as a negative. In fact, I found this to be very refreshing; Cornish throws you head first into the alien invasion pool and simply asks you to swim along. This move also takes a TON of pressure off of these young, inexperienced actors in that they are rarely asked to do much beyond crack a few jokes, swear a little, and kick alien butt.

There is no pretense to “ATB” and that may be its stroke of genius. Whereas “Cowboys and Aliens” leads with a simple and bold title but bogs down in an overly complex and burdensome plot, this film avoids complexity to the extreme. It’s just teenagers fighting aliens, plain and simple. Even the explanation for the aliens coming to London is simple and sufficient, enough to create a plausible reason for making the film in the first place but it doesn’t lead “ATB” off into an abyss of sci-fi mythos. In short, it’s a great time at the movie theater, or at least it will be if the pair behind you isn’t arguing about the merits of their favorite respective Disney films: “Shrek” and “Ice Age.” I could not make that up.

Grade: A- 

“Shrek” is clearly a better “Disney” movie than “Ice Age”,