Starring: Sharlton Copley
By Robert Patrick
What happens when aliens make contact with us? Apparently we coral them into a ghetto in Johannesburg, watch after them for several years, then serve them eviction notices.
District 9, barely a blip on the radar, is a rogue wave in the middle of conventional Hollywood blockbusters. This movie, backed by the jolly hands and twisting curls of mega director Peter Jackson, is helmed by the relatively unknown South African director Neill Blomkamp. The man’s career is dubious, to say the least, as his primary credits include special effects on shows such as Stargate and Smallville. Blomkamp’s experience of having to plow his hands into ideas that require creative ingenuity without monetary assistance come in handy, as he does amazing things with the budget he is given on District 9. The special effects are great to watch, especially in scenes where the aliens waltz around, flurries of debris pour down from the sky, and gunfire raps through walls. However this may be, where Blomkamp’s experience succeeds, it also helps him fail. Many times the movie feels, looks, and operates like it belongs on the Scifi Channel. And with the performances of its actors being little more than passable, their clunky emotions bang and wheeze like an old pickup truck coming to a puttering stop. There is a sense that Blomkamp is out of his league.
Our main character is Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an operative for MMU, an organization that heads up the containment of the extraterrestrial creatures. Wikus is naïve, good-hearted, and full of daffy anecdotes. During the first fifteen minutes, we are introduced to his character through a Christopher Guest influenced narrative. Wikus is interviewed, his unfocused warbling akin to an excitable four year-old, as he talks about his job. Obviously his happy-go-lucky nature would be more suitable for a greeter position at a grocery store, but alas he has the job of counseling aliens in their time of crisis. That’s the breaks. Eventually, while interacting with the creatures, Wikus becomes infected by a mysterious spraycan that looks suspiciously like a bottle of Tag deodorant. Our main character, upon being infected, begins to change into the same extraterrestrial creatures he abhors. Soon after the mutation begins, Wikus starts an excruciating trek to find a cure, he bonds with an alien, and be attempts to tell his wife, sigh, he loves her. I pray for Enemy Mine at times like this.
Watching Wikus transform into an oily reptilian monster, ever so slowly, made me want to gnaw on my fist in despair. District 9 shows the painstaking evolution for a good three fourths of the film. Wikus’ arm, at one point, erupts into an alien claw, not too long after he pukes on a cake at a surprise party. Later on, the gruesomeness continues to rain down like puffs of confetti, as our protagonist chops his own fingers off, letting black blood spurt out like a newly tapped oil well. I also want to mention my favorite scene, sure to knock on the door of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movie moments of all-time, where Wikus’ teeth dislodge themselves into a murky ooze of saliva and blood. With all of the goo and muck being slung with the aplomb of the Cheshire Cat, there is no wonder that the behemoth Peter Jackson would be producing such a sleazy action endeavor; it’s a throwback to his days of wacky gross-outs and head-spattering close-ups. District 9 suffers from Jackson’s unintentional influence. All of these sequences aren’t dramatically driven so much as disgusting. If some of these scenes had been ghost directed by gore mogul Sam Raimi, I would have not flinched a bit. In fact, during some of the movies more animated moments, I was reminded of “Drag Me to Hell”, another movie where syrupy cauldrons of blood popped and bubbled over the screen. And though I have nothing against the occasional dismembering of flesh, I wouldn’t like to see it at such a galloping speed that I become desensitized to it. All of the episodic, overly theatrical action sequences made for repetitious boredom. The action in this movie, loud and abrasive as it is, made me almost nod off to sleep. Having bells and whistles on your movie can be a good thing. Here, bells and whistles give me a headache.