Fielding the adolescent-hero ball bungled by JJ Abrams' soulless Super 8 and absolutely burying it in the back of the net, Joe Cornish's imaginative, funny and (yes) heartwarming Attack the Block is this year's best action flick, proving once again that there's no need for Michael Bay-caliber pyrotechnics, piled-high bloodshed or specious romance when clarity of character is held in proper regard.
The besieged "block" of the title is a high-walled South London housing project, home base for a gang of squeaky-voiced criminals led by the aptly named Moses (promising newcomer John Boyega). One minute, the kids — and they are just kids, as we're reminded via telling glimpses into each of their bedrooms — are jacking mild-mannered nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) for her valuables. The next, they're chasing (and being chased by) vicious jet-black space creatures who start peppering the 'hood like man-eating hail ("It's raining gollums!"). The cosmic onslaught drives Moses, his crew and their conflicted victim into the claustrophobic arms of the block, where allies are few (Luke Treadaway's eccentric stoner, Nick Frost's slovenly weed dealer) and hiding places are fewer.
With U.K. youth riots dominating recent international headlines, writer/director Cornish could've certainly gotten away with preaching from a product-of-their-environment pulpit, but he opts to show instead of tell, mining the relatable humanity of the day-to-day without making any insincere socioeconomic declarations. But that observation short-changes just how taut and captivating this singular 88-minute ride can be.
Attack the Block is currently playing at AMC Cherry Hill.