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Review - "Attack The Block" (A Genre Mash-Up That Should Have Been Better Than It Is)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act June 29, 2011 at 1:41AM

I didn’t just want to like this movie; I wanted to love it! I wanted to walk out of the theater exhilarated by the experience, so that I could rush home and type up a review for you all to read, that was unabashed in my enthusiasm for what I’d seen, strongly encouraging everyone reading to run to whatever their local theater of preference is, and pay the price of admission to see the film, helping to ensure it’s an opening weekend box office smash, when it’s released in theaters on July 29th.
10

I didn’t just want to like this movie; I wanted to love it! I wanted to walk out of the theater exhilarated by the experience, so that I could rush home and type up a review for you all to read, that was unabashed in my enthusiasm for what I’d seen, strongly encouraging everyone reading to run to whatever their local theater of preference is, and pay the price of admission to see the film, helping to ensure it’s an opening weekend box office smash, when it’s released in theaters on July 29th.

I wanted to love it; but, alas, I just... liked it. Now, that should be good enough I suppose. I certainly didn’t say that I hated it, nor did I actually hate it. But, given how much I’d heard and read about the film since its North American debut at the South by Southwest Film Festival this past March in Austin, Texas - the critical and commercial buzz has been near-deafening, suggesting that it’s perfect summer fare - my expectations were extremely high!

So, maybe that makes it my “problem,” if I can even call it that, and I could really just summarize this review of the film by saying that you should lower your expectations, assuming they are just as high as mine were, going into the screening I attended late last week.

And maybe that explains my delay in writing this, because, ordinarily, if I was really moved by a film, whether positively or negatively, as long as my reaction was strong and immediate, I’d have written about it within 24 to 48 hours.

Attack The Block, unfortunately, while I appreciated the ride, just didn’t really grab me. I was hoping for the cinematic equivalent of a punch in the mouth; a relentless, exhilarating trip into familiar territory, but with a fresh spin.

It was more like a pull of the cheek. Again, it’s not a bad movie; just not the one I thought I’d see, and thus, it left me a little disappointed. Sorry!

I’m sure I’m in the tiny minority here, and I know there’s a concerted effort to drum up excitement for the film, leading up to its July 29th stateside release, so that it does well when it opens; and I actually thought about whether I would be negatively affecting its box office potential by not singing along with the acclaim chorus; but, damnit, I have to be honest here! :)

Aliens attack the hood… for once. Yay! That’s the pull… at least, for me it was. Especially after the release of one of this summer’s most anticipated movies – J.J. Abrams’ alleged homage to Steven Spielberg of old, Super 8, which centers on a group of white kids in a small Ohio town in the 1970s, whose adventures into film-making with their Super 8mm camera are interrupted by a train crash carrying an alien life form. Naturally, chaos reigns in the aftermath.

And here was another “alien attacks” movie also centered on a group of kids - with this one being of special importance because its story features that rare onscreen occurrence in which the alien, or aliens in this case, invade a predominantly urban (read: black) neighborhood.

The film’s tag line says it all: “INNER CITY VS OUTER SPACE.” And the often vilified, bureaucratically-victimized young black boys who live in “da hood” actually save the day for a change! It all sounds quite revolutionary, doesn’t it?

So what’s the problem?

I’ve been thinking about that over the last few days, and it’s not one clearly identifiable thing. It starts off with a blast, and promises something altogether fresh, but then it just falls back into standard conventions of the genre; actually, really, it’s a mash-up of different genres; many have classified it as a horror movie, but, as I saw it, it was really more of a comedy, action, sci-fi, mystery thriller. And maybe that’s part of the problem here; it’s suffering from an identity crisis. Not that films can’t successfully exist in different genres; but I’m not sure this one achieves that.

The movie, in brief, pits a group of mostly black kids against an invasion of alien monsters, turning an inner city London tower block into a fortress under siege, and a ragtag group of armed teenagers into heroes... well, really, just one of them.

The cast comprises of mostly unknown actors (which was likely a risk) who do a decent job with their respective roles; although the standout was the leader of the pack, played by John Boyega, who looks eerily like a young Denzel Washington. The 17-year old has future leading man potential.

But the film's attempts to turn sinner into saint with chants of "Moses" at the end (that's Boyega's character's name, which should tell you something about his raison d'etre), after his final act of heroism and redemption, felt unearned, given all that had transpired until those closing moments - especially 2 crucial deaths in this rather close-knit unit/family (as established from the beginning of the film) that I didn't really feel the weight of, in the aftermath.

There’s the novelty as indicated in its premise, and maybe that’s the immediate draw for a lot of us. But that wasn’t enough to keep me fully engaged for its entire running time. It never gets very scary nor very funny enough. And it’s tonal shifts are at times jarring.

But ultimately, I’d say this is a movie for teens; it has some humor, a few frights, and it’s light and frothy enough, moving along quickly at just over 80 minutes in length; and, despite its obvious attempt at social commentary, never really gets weighed down in speechifying and sentimentality.

There’s even a brief exchange on the origins and intent of the aliens that speaks to a universal and warranted paranoia amongst black people, that’s rooted in a mistrust of government, and people in positions of power in general. But if you blinked, you’d miss that moment in the film, and it’s never further explored. Not that I wanted some treatise on the matter, but a seed like that can’t be planted and then not at all nurtured.

I think most will find enough to like about the movie, and feel like they’ve been entertained after seeing it. And, again, I thought it was ok; It's meant to be fun, summer fare. But I think the filmmakers tried to do too much with too little, and once the initial novelty wears off, and the smoke clears, there really isn’t a lot underneath that carried me through to the end of it.

I hoped for an outstanding combination of spectacle and story, with thrills and chills, and also plenty of heart.

But it just never quite takes off the way I wanted and expected it to.

Regardless, you should see it for yourselves; especially if you saw Super 8.


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