ATTACK THE BLOCK - The British Invasion

Joe Cornish's directorial debut Attack The Block hits cinemas today, depicting a grubby London estate terrorised by extra-terestrials and the street kids who stage a fight back, it's Battle: LA in Kappa tracksuits or Aliens meets The Goonies. I could go on making terrible comparisons all day, but the point is, it's refreshing to see a British film that has big ideas and dares to compete with Hollywood for sheer popcorn munching entertainment value and, by the looks of things, actually gives them a run for their money. Of course, despite our reputation for Merchant Ivory and Mike Leigh, British film is not all servant's quarters and kitchen sinks, here's a look at five other British efforts to muscle in on genres that Hollywood usually has the stranglehold on...

ACTION - DOWN TIME (1997)

As the quote on the VHS cover suggests this was Britain's answer to Die Hard. Paul McGann stars as a former police psychologist who saves a young girl and her child from a suicide attempt, but unfortunately a drunken gang of youths have sabotaged the elevator and our heroes are trapped. Unfortuntely this seems to be more a case of mis-marketing than a genuine attempt to turn McGann into McClane, as the film itself is a deliberately low-key and off-beat thriller where our hero suffers from asthma and the villains are never punished. It even became something of a tongue-in-cheek choke as Edgar Wright was preparing to direct Hot Fuzz, stating to Empire Online:
'The idea would be to do a sequel in tone to Shaun but to tackle what we think of as the Great British Action Film, in the grand tradition of The Young Americans and Downtime.'
So in that respect I have a strange degree of sympathy for the much maligned Downtime.

SCI-FI/FANTASY - DOOMSDAY (2008)

After a perfect pairing with directorial debut Dog Soldiers and sophomore effort The Descent, Neil Marshall completely footed it with his third film; sci-fi actioner Doomsday. It feels like a patchwork of influences, the kind of fantasy film-making that a budding director might daydream about but would hopefully never have the lapse of judgment to realise.

A hodge podge of Mad Max, Escape From New York and Excalibur, it's a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller mess that feels literally like watching a 100 minute Youtube mash-up of various scenes from better films, that when stripped of their original context are dull and meaningless. Most ludicrously is the final Mad Max 2 homage car chase that takes place across Scottish roads that were clearly filmed in South Africa.

BUDDY MOVIE - THE 51st STATE aka FORMULA 51 (2001)

A Brit buddy flick so desperately trying to straddle the Atlantic it's painful. Samuel L. Jackson's cocksure chemist teams up with Robert Carlyle's footie loving ex-hitman in a confused and convoluted plot revolving around a cartoon assortment of gangsters (Ricky Tomlinson, Rhys Ifans) and other Brit stalwarts (Sean Pertwee, Emily Mortimer) with a tone somewhere between Human Traffic and Loaded Weapon (not Leathal Weapon, as it probably hoped). It's such a dismal shambles, with Bride of Chucky director Ronny Yu fumbling the culture-clash, thinking that oh-so-quirky gimmicks like putting Samuel in a kilt will patch up the movie's short-comings. It tries to make Britain hip and Tarantino-esque, when any cool that could be derived from the UK should come from within the UK rather than be shoe-horned into it. Despite its grime and murk there were a host of sequences in Trainspotting that were 'cool' and iconic, and these didn't come from trying to stuff an American idiom into a Scottish setting, these came from a unique style distinctive from cod-Pulp Fiction.

ROM-COM/ROAD MOVIE - A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (1997)

Unfortunately, despite Danny Boyle getting it oh-so-right most of the time his stumbles are all the more jarring. In a post-Trainspotting bid to really crack the American market he took his lucky charm Ewan McGregor across the pond, along with regular writer John Hodge and producer Andrew McDonald, and tried to create an off-beat road-movie slash rom-com and the result was disastrous.

Sure it has its moments here and there, and Boyle assembles a great cast of American character actors, but the whole film has a dry, flat pace and its two leads - Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz - are so unlikable that it's hard to care about the wacky plot involving Angelic hitmen, kidnapping and dentists. British rom-coms have always been the safest bet when it comes to busting American blocks, but they usually have to at least retain their Britishness (see; Four Weddings, Bridget Jones) to appeal. Boyle's biggest mistake was to abandon those home comforts and try and make his own Coen brothers flick, though I'm not sure the same film set on Highland roads would have improved things too much?!

COMEDY/HORROR - SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)

Spawned from an episode of Spaced where Tim (Simon Pegg) enters a Bruce Campbell/George Romero fantasy sequence and blasts away zombie scum, the feature film debut of Pegg and Wright smartly used the cliches of a well-defined American genre and subverted it to a distinctly British sensibility that it managed to broadly appeal to both UK and US audiences and paved the way for Hot Fuzz, a strange higgledy piggledy mish-mash of Midsomer Murders, John Woo and The Wicker Man. Where Wright and Pegg really succeeded was in creating a set of characters that you could easily root for and staying true to the 'rules' of zombie lore, providing enough side splitting laughs, blood letting gore and a romantically driven narrative to capture a wide audience and propel a handful of careers up onto the A-List; Spielberg's latest Tintin will feature both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in supporting roles and comes from a script penned by Wright and Joe Cornish (who has a cameo in Shaun of the Dead as a zombie gunned down at the film's conclusion). Of course anyone who thinks it's easy for us Brits to put together a decent comedy horror should take a long hard look at Lesbian Vampire Killers. So, any other British attempts at Hollywood staples that you've found particularly impressive or depressing?
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Owain Paciuszko hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.