Urban Cowboys & Aliens, by Jack Fleischer
It’s hard to put my finger on it, but something had me on the fence going in to Attack the Block. I think I was worried that it was just going to be merely a rehash of Monster Squad with a dash of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. I dig both those movies, but in a world where every childhood film from the last 30 years is being remade, I’m ready to move past my prepubescent desires (much to my girlfriend’s approval).
Attack the Block does pay mucho homage, but it manages to be its own thing and it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
This is an alien invasion flick where a group of kids in the projects of South London decide that they will be the ones to liberate and protect their block of flats. The plot is truly that simple, but to really give you the full effect I’d like to recreate a conversation I recently had with my roommate about the flick:
Me: Yeah it was a real fun movie, it was basically a bunch of kids fighting against these aliens for 88 minutes.
Him: What, kids with guns?
Me: Well no … kind of? Most of it was makeshift stuff like a super soaker and samurai swords.
Him: So it’s little kids fighting deadly aliens with super soakers and samurai swords?
Me: I know that sounds hokey, maybe, but really they handle it well, and the aliens are creepy.
Him: The aliens are CGI?
Me: No, well, wait. I guess some of it is CGI, some of it seems like puppet. Kind of like Henson puppets? Like the “wheelers” from Return to OZ only looking like a big bear animal with rows of teeth.
Him: It’s kids with super soakers. Fighting Muppet bears. And you say it’s good?
Me: Hm. I’m not describing this well. Ok, here’s something. In this movie, the kids can- and do- die.
Ultimately that’s the fact that got him interested, and that’s what I’d like to use for all of you out there. The children are funny and witty, dropping more bon mots than Schwarzenegger in Commando, but yes some of them do indeed pay for their snide remarks. The blood of children is spilled, and that’s what makes this a fun movie. Drink up, people.
But seriously, until the day that aliens really do invade our blue ball, any alien imagined in film will have an element of unreality to it. The truly smart aspect of this film is that even while the aliens are a “realistically” palpable threat in the context of the flick, it’s the kids that writer/director Joe Cornish focuses on making into real people.
At the beginning of the film the kids are completely unlikable. Truly, they come across as tiny teen dirt bags, and at first it’s hard not to want the alien to come down on them. Newcomer and lead John Boyega, who plays Moses in the film, does an excellent job of playing an unlikable teen thug, and then ultimately the under matched hero.
In fact, the entirety of the under 20 cast are fun to watch. As for the adults, Jodie Whittaker (Venus), is good. Unfortunately her character is neither funny, nor action oriented, in the midst of an action-comedy. Although Nick Frost is heavily featured in the trailer, he doesn’t do much here. But he is every bit the Nick Frost you know and love. On the other hand, Luke Treadaway (Clash of the Titans), here playing an over privileged stoner, is really quite funny and fantastic.
Edgar Wright is a producer on this film, and fans of “Spaced,” Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, know his propensity to reference his favorite source materials. While Director Cornish looks like he took a page or two from the Wright manual, few of the references seem slavish and if you can’t get enough of ET, Monster Squad, Ghostbusters and assorted other films I think you’ll see references here that you will only appreciate.
Attack the Block does indeed end on an up-note, but don’t forget … children die horribly bloody deaths, and if we all can’t get behind that, then maybe it’s best if the aliens win.