District 9

4 out of 5 stars
District 9

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

When the aliens finally do arrive in their metal ships, perhaps they’ll hang like a swollen metaphor over Johannesburg. District 9 takes this ominous spectacle, shrouded in an impressively realistic haze and the broadcasts of numerous helicopter crews, and weds it to a grungy fable about humankind’s ugliness to its guests. The sci-fi thriller sometimes plays like a political documentary, other times like the gruesomely dark gems of the 1980s: Jack Sholder’s The Hidden or Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Behind it all is executive producer and hobbit master Peter Jackson, who obviously can’t say goodbye to his blood-spattered genre roots. (That’s a good thing.)

The movie’s creatures, rendered with insectoid precision and derisively called “prawns” by the white characters, are ghettoized in a Soweto-like township. There, we learn, they’ve languished on cat food for three decades. (Forgive the setup its smaller absurdisms.) When Wikus (Copley), an unctuous government stooge, is tasked with forcibly relocating the aliens to another site, the movie quickly attains a scary, enervating tension from which it never quite modulates. Our unlikable main character is sprayed in the face with black goop and begins evolving, turning him into a valuable bioweapon. Wikus becomes a fugitive, the film alternating between Abu Ghraib--like torture scenes and libertarian John Carpenter heroics. District 9 has too many gory vaporizations to qualify as a serious statement on race relations, but it does outclank Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen by a wide margin, and you thrill to the cleanly cut action sequences. A gang of cannibalistic Nigerians is unfortunate, but Neill Blomkamp, mounting his first feature, is taking on more real-world drama than future schlock generally allows. (Opens Fri.)—Joshua Rothkopf

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