E.T. Phoned In: Attack the Block has cheap jokes and lots of tedium.
E.T. Phoned In: Attack the Block has cheap jokes and lots of tedium.

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“We ain’t killing each other fast enough,” says the leader of a South London gang in Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block. He’s not concerned about his own posse’s belt notches, though—he thinks the government’s got genocide on its mind. And what did the government allegedly do to wipe out his people?

It sent faceless, gorilla-size fur balls from outer space.

OK, so these cuddly creatures have sharklike jaws that glow in the dark. But otherwise the inky, somewhat shapeless beings aren’t any scarier than your typical Muppet. Which is kind of a problem when you’re offering an R-rated thriller about an alien invasion. The other issue? That Attack the Block is about as deep as Cowboys & Aliens. In the latter, there were cowboys, and there were aliens, and that was about it. In the former, there’s a gang-ridden block, and it gets attacked. You get the idea.

As might be expected, the film elevates an unlikely hero to battle the ETs. Moses (John Boyega) is the alpha of a bunch of ne’er-do-wells who rob and terrorize a young woman named Sam (Jodie Whittaker) one night. Soon thereafter, they’re terrorized themselves. Missilelike mysteries dive-bomb their neighborhood, destroying cars and other property. When Moses and his crew check out the accompanying flashes of light, they find an ugly, toothy, fast-moving thing that they chase to a shed. Moses quickly kills it and mounts its head on a stick; the act is rather anticlimactic, especially given the lightning-quick edits that don’t allow us see much in the first place.

They parade the trophy around the ’hood, boasting that the aliens decided to land in the wrong place, then decide to hide the thing in a heavily guarded marijuana hothouse that’s located in the same beleaguered apartment building in which Sam lives. Neither the kids nor South London are in the clear, however—soon more aliens arrive, going after them, particularly Moses, with fuzzy fury. When gang members start getting hurt, they find their way to Sam, knowing from her stolen wallet that she’s a nurse. “Trust me,” one says. “This has got nothing to do with gangs. Or drugs. Or rap music. Or violence in video games!”

It’s one of the few actually funny lines in this Shaun of the Dead wannabe. (That film’s director, Edgar Wright, executive-produced, and Shaun co-star Nick Frost phones it in as a perpetually stoned dealer.) Otherwise, the film is all cheap scares, confusing edits, and, in turn, tedium. You won’t care enough about Moses to be cheered when he wants to redeem himself; nor will you be frightened enough by the aliens to sit at the edge of your seat. Really, it’s not long into this 90-minute snoozer until you’re focusing on just one thing: waiting for it to end.