'MIB': It's never as good as the first time

Reeling It In

"Men in Black III"
Amblin Entertainment
1 hour, 43 minutes

When the original "Men in Black" came out, I was 24 years old, probably right in the center of the target market. I loved it, naturally. These kinds of movies -- action/sci-fi/comedies, whether they star Eddie Murphy or Will Smith -- are always aimed at that particular target market: high school kids, college students, and people in their late 20s.

 

When it was announced that a new "MIB" was in the works, I was a little puzzled. Who, I wondered, are they marketing this to? Fifteen years is a long time, and the first time they attempted a sequel, things didn't turn out so well. "Men in Black II" was pretty bad, but also pretty forgettable, which is almost worse. Unsure of the probable audience for a third outing of this series, I decided to query our babysitter, a high school girl.

"So, you know about 'Men in Black III' coming out?"

"Hmmm ... I think ..."

"Did you ever see the first one? It was pretty funny."

"No..."

"So, do you have any connection to these characters? You know, Will Smith. Tommy Lee Jones."

"No."

"So, do you know anything about the story?

"No."

"Do you think you'll go see it?"

"Mmmm. Probably not."

Besides being weirded out that some old guy is quizzing her about some ancient movie no one's ever even heard of, I think she hits upon an important point. "Men in Black III" is a very expensive present that showed up to the party 10 years too late.

It's actually kind of too bad, because all in all, "MIB3" isn't a bad movie. There are funny moments, and thrilling moments, and even a few small bits of true emotion.

The biggest problem is that it's all rote. Insert requisite Will Smith joke here. Add Tommy Lee Jones glower there. Digitally place crazy background alien here, there, and over there. Nothing was surprising or new -- that is, of course, unless you're like my babysitter and have no frame of reference, in which case you're probably not buying a ticket in the first place.

The story begins in a maximum security prison where a vicious alien named Boris The Animal is staging a daring break-out. Of course, he's got nothing less than the total destruction of the planet on his mind, and along the way, he wants to settle an old score. It seems that in 1969, Jones' Agent K put him in that prison, and took one of his arms to boot. Now Boris is ready for some payback.

After shooting it out with K and J (Smith) in a faux-Chinese food restaurant, Boris steals a time machine and sets off for the late 60s in order to kill K and prevent him from stopping global destruction. Naturally, J has to follow Boris to 1969 and the movie finally outs with its single best element. Josh Brolin is young agent K, and his impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones goes beyond mere mimicry. Brolin is so right on with the character that it's almost creepy at times. I can only imagine what it felt like for Jones being on the set.

However, this parlor trick, though fun, isn't enough to build an entire movie on, and back to the action we go.

I can appreciate that a lot of hard work went into the making of this film. The make-up, costumes, and special effects are stellar. The acting, writing, and direction, with the exception of Brolin's performance, however, are merely adequate, and I think director Barry Sonnenfeld and crew needed to aim higher. Boris, for example, is a really creepy looking character. Weirdo claws and spikes and bugs coming out of his hand -- he's cool. Jemaine Clement, who plays Boris, has a great look and a great voice for the character. But he never gets to be funny. Clement, one of the "Flight of the Conchords" crew, is hilarious, not that you'd ever know from this movie.

Also, the absence of the very funny Rip Torn is keenly felt. Torn, who played the head of MIB in years past, is replaced by Agent O, played by Emma Thompson. Thompson is fine, but she's no Rip Torn.

The bottom line is that "Men in Black III" inspires no emotion on the part of the audience. Not excitement, hilarity, or even anger or disgust at how bad it is. It's not bad, it's just pat. And this is from a real fan of the series -- someone who wanted to like it. I can only imagine how it plays with people who have no idea what it is.

Grade: C+

"Men in Black III" is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and mild language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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