Edgar Wright hasn’t directed Simon Pegg and Nick Frost since 2007’s Hot Fuzz, but they all clearly have extraterrestrials on the brain. Pegg and Frost recently collaborated on the pretty good, politely received Steven Spielberg homage Paul, and now Wright has executive-produced Attack The Block, a funky little cult-movie-in-the-making by his friend and writing partner Joe Cornish. (Naturally, the two worked on Spielberg’s new Tintin movie, which co-stars Pegg and Frost.) Continuing the extraterrestrial theme, the film concerns a motley, multicultural crew of street kids who take on monsters from outer space.
In a potentially star-making performance, John Boyega plays a charismatic gang leader whose attempts to mug a pretty nurse played by Venus’ Jodie Whittaker are rudely interrupted by the unexpected appearance of a fearsome alien monster. Whittaker, Boyega, and Boyega’s gang must subsequently put aside their gender, racial, and class differences for the sake of a common cause: fighting off a mysterious alien plague. Frost is funny as a low-level drug dealer and National Geographic buff, as is Luke Treadaway as a student who stops by Frost’s weed spot to pick up some marijuana, and gets more than he bargained for.
Attack The Block has an agreeably scrappy early John Carpenter Dark Star/Assault On Precinct 13 vibe, rich in moral ambiguity and gleeful, smartass genre-mashing. Boyega begins the film as a heavy, but by the end the filmmakers have persuaded viewers to root for a troubled teenage criminal committing violent acts in the name of the common good. Attack The Block turns its modest budget into a virtue by focusing on character, especially the surprisingly charged, complicated dynamic between enemies-turned-allies Whittaker and Boyega. As a high-profile A-picture, Paul had stars and a big budget, but Attack The Block has a clever script and winning underdog spirit that ultimately proves much more important.