'District 9' (Sony / Tri-Star)

Do we really need another alien invasion picture? When it's as hellaciously entertaining as District 9, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

A huge spaceship comes to a sudden halt above Johannesburg, South Africa, stranding all its passengers on Earth. Twenty years later, the alien settlement has become a crime-filled shantytown; the visitors from outer space, derisively called "prawns" because of their resemblance to sea creatures, have worn out their welcome. They have refused to assimilate into human culture and stubbornly insist on speaking their own language instead of learning an Earth-friendly tongue. Local residents have had enough. The government hires MNU, a weapons development corporation with its own private army, to evict the prawns from their walled-off ghetto and relocate to a new tent city, where it is hoped that they will no longer disturb humans.

The premise immediately invites comparisons with Alien Nation, Cloverfield, District 13, Escape From New York, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, and on and on. The initial scenes only add to this impression by unreeling in a mock-documentary style, featuring interviews with human witnesses and excerpts from television broadcasts. But thanks to the ingenuity of director Neill Blomkamp and his co-writer Terri Tatchell (perhaps with a nudge in the right direction by producer Peter Jackson), District 9 swiftly establishes its own tough-minded, smart identity. Think of it as Independence Day for adults.