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September 25, 2017

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Smart aliens 'attack the block'

The low-budget British aliens-invade-the-hood thriller "Attack the Block" reminded me of Rick's famous line in "Casablanca," his reply when Major Strasser asks about how he'll feel with the Nazis in New York.

"Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade."

And there are certain sections of London that maybe the aliens should think twice about before plunging in and devouring the locals.

On Guy Fawkes night, as fireworks pop off across the city, young thugs led by the charismatic Moses (John Boyega) select their target and mug her. But not every streak in the night sky is man-made. A meteor drops in and the thing that crawls out of it interrupts the mugging and sets Moses off.

"I'm chasin' that down," he vows in heavily-accented English. "I'm killin' it."

But it is only after he does exactly what he says that young Moses starts to understand his violence and what it can lead to.

"Your actions, 'zay' 'ave consequences Moses," the mouthy Tia says. And so they do. Because that alien wasn't alone. And as the night goes on and more meteors crash, Moses finds himself in conflict with an older gang leader, chased by the cops and hunted by shadowy gorillas with glow-in-the-dark teeth.

"That's a alien, bra," one of his mates says. Eventually, Moses comes to agree with him. "Allow it."

As they chase and are chased, the young gang members — all of them 14 or 15 — meet and come to depend on the woman they mugged (Jodie Whitaker), a freshly graduated nurse.

"There's worse tings out there to be scared of than us tonight," is their only reassurance.

They hole up in their apartment block with their local low-rent drug dealer (Nick Frost of "Shaun of the Dead") and face the night with a comical bravado and plucky resourcefulness.

This film from the producers of "Shaun of the Dead" is a sprint through mean streets with minimal but very effective special effects. What juices "Attack the Block" are the performances and the slang-heavy dialogue, performed off-the-cuff with a sort of "Why aren't there subtitles?" realism.

"It's raining Gollums!" the kids shriek. "We runnin' for our lives, cuz. Believe."

Writer-director Joe Cornish, a veteran of British TV, has delivered a brisk blast of bloody good fun, sci-fi with a little social commentary as subtext. "Attack the Block," is the movie that "Battle: Los Angeles" was not — thrilling, nerve-racking and fun.

'Attack the Block' (異星大作戰) ► Directed by Joe Cornish / With John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker and Alex Esmail / Action, Sci-Fi, Comedy / 2011 / UK, France / 88 min / English with Chinese subtitles / Now Showing / ★★★☆☆

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