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Movie review: 'Super 8' -- 3 stars

Super 8

Super 8 Photo Credit: Handout

Super 8
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler
Rated PG-13

3 stars

Steven Spielberg was only a producer on "Super 8," but the movie channels him at every turn, from sentimental flourishes to hints of John Williams in the score. It's a modern-day "E.T." of sorts, though much more prosaic.

Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, "Super 8" is about a group of middle school friends in 1979 who set out to make a delightfully lo-fi zombie movie. Their homespun super 8 project will no doubt stir up memories among any audience member who fiddled around with a film or video camera in their youth.

In the middle of a night shoot, the crew - five boys, one girl - witnesses an ear-splitting train crash that leaves a swath of land littered with mangled metal, mysterious pocket-sized cubes and a rail car that holds something large, angry and top-secret inside.

Panicked, they split the scene and stay mum. In the ensuing days, car engines and metal appliances start to disappear around town, as do people. The Air Force, arrogant and hush-hush, sets up base nearby, triggering all sorts of Area 51 conspiracies in your head.

As far as alien movies go, "Super 8" is mediocre. I like my alien stories with a little more meat and a little less schmaltz - the schmaltz mostly centers on the central kid, Joe (Joel Courtney), who's dealing with a dead mother and emotionally distant father (Kyle Chandler).

Where "Super 8" does succeed, though, is in capturing the DIY joys of childhood - the thrill of the proverbial sofa fort. The final cut of the zombie movie, which screens during the end credits, is a sheer delight.

The young actors all feel wonderfully fresh, and their on-camera ease makes for a perfect Spielbergian kid camaraderie.

If you want a summer movie that's part sweet, part excitement, "Super 8" goes down easy.

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