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Movie review: 'Attack the Block'

British comedian Joe Cornish's debut feature works as both a sci-fi horror flick and a teen adventure film.

July 29, 2011|By Mark Olsen, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • A scene from "Attack the Block."
A scene from "Attack the Block." (Screen Gems )

In "Attack the Block," the feature writing and directing debut of British comedian Joe Cornish, an alien invasion occurs in a London public housing complex, and only a group of teenagers seems to notice.

Pulsing with a rowdy energy, the film works as both a sci-fi horror flick and a teen adventure film. The greatest turn that Cornish pulls off is opening the movie with his protagonists mugging a woman (Jodie Whittaker) and still somehow making them seem, as the story unfolds, worth getting to know (while never excusing their nascent thuggery).

Circumstances eventually force the mugging victim to join forces with them, and their transition from hoodlums to heroes in terms of audience sympathy is simply remarkable, particularly regarding the leader of the posse, Moses (John Boyega).

Cornish approaches his story with neither condescension nor nostalgia. The film obviously references '80s-era monster movies like "The Thing" or "Gremlins" in its visual style, but rather than going for some vague "makes me feel like I was 12 years old again" sensation that is in vogue with the Comic-Con crowd, Cornish creates something that feels fresh, new and now. One of the film's biggest laugh lines comes amid a hectic rush as one of the boys exclaims: "This is too much madness to explain in one text!"

The film doesn't have the same hyperdrive pop consciousness as the work of Edgar Wright — an executive producer on this film and a collaborator with Cornish on the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's upcoming "The Adventures of Tintin" — and that is perhaps for the better. Cornish's film is smart, but not knowing, as he is obviously aware of what he is doing without projecting an overt sense of self-awareness.

Even the alien monsters themselves, part dog and part ape with glow-in-the-dark teeth and inky black fur like a scary shag carpet, feel original. Spirited and exciting, "Attack the Block" is so-called geek cinema done right.

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