Entertainment - 14/08


District 9
If your favorite food is prawns, those nice, juicy, ugly crustaceans stir-fried in a wok with a combination of mysterious sauces, be sure to go to lunch before you see "District 9." Afterward you may decide to get scallops instead, because the prawns in this movie are ten feet tall and they're big, ugly, black-liquid spewing characters. They don't act so nice either, but that's not their fault: they've been marginalized to say the least, thrown into a ghetto called District 9 where they are to have no contact with human beings-forever. There is much in director Neill Blomkamp's vision that is allegorical. One suspects that without the political commentary, there would be nothing to the story.

Columbia Pictures
Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten
Grade: C
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written By: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, Vanessa Haywood, Mandla Gaduka, Kenneth Nkosi, Eugene Khumbanyiwa, Louis Minnaar, William Allen Young
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 8/10/09
Opens: August 14, 2009

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Notwithstanding the political implications, which are a none-too-subtle aspect of the script which the director co-wrote with Terri Tatchell, "District 9" is neither particularly original nor in any way gripping. There is no real character development, not even for the principal fellow who has the most direct contact with the aliens which are called prawns by the humans, nor does Blomkamp's tale provide suspense. That being the case, there is no-one in the picture to care about, nor are we successfully prompted to have empathy or sympathy for the creatures despite the hard luck that finds them fish out of water, so to speak, desiring nothing more than to go home.

Neill Blomkamp, born in South Africa and now living in Canada, situates the picture in the land of his birth, in and around Johannesburg, a large city that finds slum dwellers able to look out upon the skyscrapers housing businesses that do nothing to advance their comfort. A space ship arrives there (perhaps the only original idea in the movie in that most space ships tend to favor Roswell, New Mexico), runs out of gas, and remains suspended for twenty years above Jo'Burg, its inhabitants separated from the human community behind the barbed wire of District 9. They're not really prawns but that's what the humans call them because of their appearance and the belief that they are bottom-feeders-though they like cat food rather than crabs. The aliens need a black liquid to get their ship moving and to power weapons that they can use in their defense. Obesandjo (Eugene Khumbanyiwa), who heads a Nigerian mafia, wants to get at these weapons.

When Wikus (Sharlto Copey) becomes infected with a prawn virus that changes his DNA, first observed when he loses some teeth and fingernails but grows a claw to replace an arm, Obesandjo orders his fellow criminals to cut off the man's arm so that he can eat it and develop the ability to harness the power of the aliens' weaponry.

Sharlto Copey dominates the proceedings, a man on the run from the alien self that he is becoming and from the scientists in an organizations known as MNU who want to harvest his organs, thereby enabling them to utilize advanced weaponry. He allies himself with Christopher (Jason Cope), a prawn, and Christiopher's young son, pursued by Koobus (David James), who looks like Jason Stratham and seeks to kill Wikus.

The movie opens as a mock-doc, talking heads discussing the nature of the ship that hovers over the city's landscape, with actual archival film to show crowd scenes. Trent Opaloch's mini-cameras take us into the heart of the action in such a way that we think that the cameraman is himself running from both prawns and humans.

The action takes place over a period of seventy-four hours, the time needed for Wikus to develop a full-scale claw and for Clinton Shorter's music to hit the soundtrack with effectively scary tones. . As a buddy picture and road movie, "District 9" encapsulates the dilemma of apartheid, a system of government in South Africa that once allowed fifteen percent of whites to dominate eighty-five percent of blacks. In a broader sense, this is an allegory of what humans beings have done to other human beings since time immemorial. While the point is made to anyone in the audience who paid attention to the moralizing of their middle-school teachers, the movie presents a stream of events involving people who mean nothing to those of us who sat through the film in a merely dutiful way.

Rated R. 112 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

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