“Super 8” a notch above summer flops

“Super 8” has the makings of a modern classic.

The ingredients are there, but the taste never quite peaks on the palette.

Don’t get me wrong, “Super 8” deserves praise. In an era of remakes and identical sequels (like “The Hangover Part II”), J.J. Abrams brings character-based story telling back to the table.

The movie centers on a group of children making a film for a local festival. They’re thrust in the middle of the turmoil when a train crash puts the town into fear and confusion.

Sure, the special effects are impressive (and expensive), there’s a train crash that rivals “The Fugitive,” and there are zombies; but, the movie thrives on the strength of its slowly unfolded mystery and easily likable characters.

Though Abrams wrote and directed the film, it’s impossible not to compare it to the work of its producer, Steven Spielberg. “Super 8” is more “E.T.” than “War of the Worlds.” It features discovery and awe like in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and the audience is led on a string of intriguing occurrences (yes, I’m intentionally being vague to prevent spoilers) like “Jaws.”

The 1970s setting fits perfectly and only adds to the film’s appeal and charm, especially when the town sheriff scoffs at a young man’s new contraption — a portable cassette player. “Super 8” restores the wonder of films from the era.

But for all the allure, marvel and emotions, the film doesn’t quite attain its potential.

A few story turns are intentionally sloppy and unbelievable, with the hope the audience — now swimming in the film’s intoxication — won’t notice or won’t care. These miraculous survivals and convenient revelations are necessary for a concise plot, but they reveal the gears churning behind the film.

Another problem is an underdeveloped antagonist. With a film that coyly hides the forces behind strange occurrences, it’s difficult to adequately develop and portray the direct actions of the evil hand behind it.

The film’s strength is its curse: The villains remain as shadowy as the film’s central secret.

Despite its flaws, “Super 8” is worth the watch.

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