I suppose if you wanted to create the perfect summer movie, you'd blend together nostalgia, small-town life, smart kids, a monster, a military cover-up, and families reuniting. Those are the ingredients for Super 8, the summer movie from writer-director J.J. Abrams.

It's the summer of 1978 in the fictional small town of Lillian, Ohio. Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a young kid, is still reeling from the death of his mother at a steel plant four months earlier. Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) can't connect with his son and wants Joe to go to football camp, but Joe would rather paint models and help his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) complete a zombie movie they're making with a few friends.

One night Joe, Charles, and some friends sneak out to shoot movie footage at the train stop. Joe excited that cute girl Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) is helping with the movie. During the filming, though, Joe sees a truck drive onto the tracks and smash into an oncoming train. Everyone's alright, but the truck driver was their teacher Mr. Woodward (Glynn Turman) -- and when the military shows up, he warns the kids that the military will kill them if they tell anyone what they saw. They flee -- with Joe taking one of the strange cubes that fell out of the train, and with Charles grabbing his super 8 film camera that recorded the crash.

Things get weird quickly. Lillian has blackouts, people are reporting that their machines have been vandalized and pets have gone missing, and several people have vanished (including the sheriff, leaving Jackson to be in charge of handling the events). Also, the military have arrived at the town in force, giving out no information and searching for something. And that cube Joe took starts to shake and move on its own...

While Super 8 is a mash-up of several genres -- action, horror, drama, comedy-- I'd say the biggest factor is nostalgia. This movie is a loving look back, from when a few kids could make a movie with no budget or equipment (and their final film is shown during the end credits) to when the grown-ups are either malevolent or clueless and it's up to the kids to save the day. Sometimes this makes Super 8 feel a little too pat and simplistic, but it works as the sort of throwaway movie you'd have caught on a hot summer night at the local drive-in. This movie has its strengths (the amazing train explosion early on) and weaknesses (the creature is a fairly standard cgi creation), but it's as enjoyable at the time as it is easily forgotten afterwards.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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