Super 8 (Rated PG-13)  4 Stars06-29-11-super-8.jpg

J.J. Abrams nostalgic look at the 1970’s owes much to the early science fiction/fantasy work of Steven Spielberg. Super 8 (112 minutes) mostly succeeds in what it sets out to do, even if some of the younger actors are a bit precocious. If the film has a single major flaw, it is in the tendency to try wringing emo-tional depth out of smaltziness. On the other hand, as you would expect from the man behind the plane crash on Lost, the train crash that drives the first half of the film is rendered in spectacular detail.

In the early part of 1979 Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) loses his mother. There is something unresolved about his mother’s death, but the audience is left to ponder it as the movie advances four months in time to the end of school year.

Joe hangs out with a little Aryan youth gang, Charles (Riley Griffiths, who I bet we’re going to see more of), Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Cary (Ryan Lee). Charles is making a low-budget zombie film to enter into a film festival, and he has managed to get The Girl from the Wrong Side of the Tracks, Alice (Elle Fanning), to help them out. Not only is she going to steal her dad’s (Ron Eldard…HEY! He played the romantic lead in an obscure Phoebe Cates movie called Drop Dead Fred! AND a doomed astronaut in Deep Impact!) car, and drive them to their shooting location, she also agrees to play a character in the movie.

While filming the rehearsal, all the boys develop a crush on Alice, but they are distracted by the impending train explosion, which takes approximately 30 minutes to finish. And is shown from about a million angles. And does not dis-able their unfortunately parked stolen car, despite the fact that the car was clearly in the path of the derailing train, and despite the fact that it is clearly shown being showered with fiery twisted metal. In fact, they are able to pop into the car and drive off without any of the Air Force guys stopping them or shooting their tires out, even though the kids take their time rummaging through the crash site and picking up interesting metal cubes.

Despite their luck at getting away unharmed, Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich) has his men take plaster casts of the tire tracks, and finds the empty film boxes. Luckily for the kids, he is a stupid colonel and makes all kinds of assumptions about the people who saw the crash, which buys them some time.

People, pets, microwaves, and car engines start disappear-ing. Joe’s dad (Kyle Chandler) practices being a terrible parent in between attempting to fill the shoes of the missing Sheriff while poking at the Air Force guys every chance he gets. Really, Mr. Lamb, you should trust the shady government dudes on a secret mission in your town.

The kids continue to film their movie, incorporating the Air Force presence into the film to raise production values, al-though how they managed to get their hands on a child-sized version of the Air Force uniform, including blue beret, remains an off-screen secret. After a little poking around, the kids, lack-ing only a Mystery Machine, easily discover the source of all the spooky goings on. Too bad the Air Force discovers them! Not that it matters, be-cause in order for the plot to advance the kids need to get away from the military.

Which they do, amidst some nicely framed shots of tanks rolling though playgrounds and military guys firing automatic weapons in the suburbs. Despite the push to declare Super 8 a next generation E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial, it’s not quite there. At least we get to see the final version of the kid’s zombie film over the closing credits.

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