District 9

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      Starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and Nathalie Boltt. Rated 18A.

      On the surface, District 9 seems perfectly content to function as a highly imaginative science-fiction thriller. But the story of prawnlike aliens who are condemned to live in squalid isolation after their mother ship breaks down over Johannesburg functions on a multitude of levels. You may think that it’s impossible to sympathize with the kind of subjugated space creature who would look perfectly at home dipped in a giant dish of cocktail sauce. Thankfully, director and cowriter Neill Blomkamp manages to have fun with the concept while simultaneously serving up a Kafkaesque tale that doubles as a clever metaphor for South African apartheid.

      Watch the trailer for District 9.

      Shot in the style of a documentary, Blomkamp’s feature debut has the raw feel of a rapidly breaking news story. We’re introduced to Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a clueless bureaucrat who works for a shadowy security company known as Multi-National United. The dorky Wikus adores his beautiful wife (Vanessa Haywood), and—thanks to the shameless nepotism of his powerful father-in-law—he’s bursting with pride over his latest promotion.

      Wikus has been assigned the complex task of relocating the growing alien population to a slightly larger ghetto area. The aliens, who have been stranded in Johannesburg for more than two decades, are getting dangerously restless. Meanwhile, Multi-National United has been conducting sinister experiments on the aliens. They’re especially interested in learning how to utilize the advanced weaponry confiscated from the ship.

      Things get complicated when Wikus ingests some mysterious spores and begins to slowly morph into one of the space creatures. After it’s discovered that his crablike arm can activate one of the alien space guns, his employer begins to view him as a highly valuable guinea pig. What ultimately emerges is a highly entertaining chase film with a welcome touch of soul.