What the sci-fi action flick "District 9" lacks in famous faces it makes up for with sheer imagination. It's an unlikely summer blockbuster, shot with a South African cast on a restrained budget. It's also a refreshing blast of original filmmaking.
Instead of Shia LaBeouf or Nicolas Cage, we get the unknown but excellent Sharlto Copley as Wikus, an amiable bureaucrat whose private security firm has been hired to solve Johannesburg's immigration problem. No, not the Zimbabweans, but a population of gurgling, crab-clawed extraterrestrials living in a segregated slum called District 9.
It's an obvious allegory, but director and co-writer Neill Blomkamp, making his feature debut under the guidance of producer Peter Jackson (they worked on a scrapped adaptation of the video game "Halo"), never overplays it. Shot partially as a documentary with talking-head journalists and relief workers, the film cannily creates a new but familiar downtrodden minority. The aliens are even tarred with a slur: prawns.
In a door-busting raid, Wikus and his privatized military merrily drag the creatures from their homes and torch their eggs. But after a canister of mysterious fluid explodes in his face, Wikus' attitude - and his body - will change. His new best friend: a resourceful alien saddled with the Western name Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope).
Plot holes and techno-nonsense abound, but this smart, funny, fast-moving film will earn your patience. Like "Planet of the Apes" for a media-savvy generation, "District 9" is a highly entertaining take on a serious subject.