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Attack the Block: A fast action ride in London's inner-city

A scene from "Attack the Block," an English film shot entirely on location in Brixton, South London


3 out of 4 stars


It would be easy to believe that the only way to battle unfriendly aliens is with military-grade futuristic weaponry - even when the hero is a 19th-century cowboy. But it turns out a motivated gang of five hoodie-wearing male youths armed with BMX bikes, lighter fluid, plenty of firecrackers and a ninja-sword knockoff can do the job just fine.

Like the $100-million (U.S.) spectacle Cowboys and Aliens (starring James Bond and Indiana Jones), the nifty little British sci-fi action comedy Attack the Block (starring five terrific unknown male teen actors) gets an exotic jolt by telling its alien-invasion story in an atypical setting - in this case, an isolated London council apartment tower ("the block").

For first-time feature director Joe Cornish, who also wrote the screenplay, this urban wasteland is a fertile playground - just the perfect spot to drop some (at last!) non-slimy aliens, and imagine how a bunch of loosely connected characters would behave during a localized siege.

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Attack The Block crosses midnight with matinee. It's a mash up of Gremlins, E.T., a stoner comedy and a monster B-movie, delivered with a visual nod to 1970s teen gang films and reflecting the comedy smarts of, well, Joe Cornish.

Known for his work in pop-culture skewering Brit TV and radio comedy duo Adam and Joe, Cornish will hit the global spotlight soon as co-writer (with fellow Brits, Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright and Sherlock writer Steven Moffat) of Steven Spielberg's 3-D The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn. We can assume Attack The Block is a more pure expression of Cornish's own aesthetic.

Block may crackle with catchphrase-inspiring dialogue, but its characters and their interactions feel straight out of the real block. It's all very here and now - except for aliens dropping sporadically from the sky, which are largely and understandably unnoticed during the mayhem of annual Bonfire Night.

The first alien crashes via a meteor onto a parked car, interrupting the gang's mugging debut. Their victim, a young local nurse played by Jodie Whittaker, calls the cops about the crime (but later joins the alien-fighting cause). Moses - the gang's quiet, level-headed fearless leader played by notable newcomer John Boyega - kills the nasty little alien, and the gang drags the corpse to the block's criminal headquarters, a 19th-floor weed grow op, for safekeeping. "We need a manager," says one kid as they discuss potential tabloid payoffs for their story.

But a second wave of meteors hits. The boys swagger out to defend the block, only to discover the alien monsters in the new batch are bigger and more vicious - and they seem to be targeting the gang.

Frequent comic pauses are provided by Nick Frost (known best over here for starring opposite Simon Pegg), as the grow op's stoner doorman, and Luke Treadaway, as a superstoned university student just trying to pick up a little extra weed to sell.

Stacked against this summer's CGI-driven blockbusters, Attack the Block is definitely the fastest action ride (clocking under 90 minutes), and quite possibly the most fun. As Moses and his mates would say, "Believe."

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Attack the Block opens in Toronto on Friday, other Canadian cities to be confirmed.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Attack the Block

  • Directed and written by Joe Cornish
  • Starring Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, and Alex Esmail
  • Classification: 14A
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