Posted: Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Men In Black II is a perfect example of what is wrong with sequels: they simply don't, can't, live up to the magic of the original. Now, I know, every time a critic starts to complain about sequels, there's a dozen film geeks standing in line touting Godfather II, Terminator 2, and The Empire Strikes Back. Trust me, these are anomalies; for every Aliens, you get a dozen Nutty Professor 2, The Klumps. And that's not even the counting the sequel machines that are Halloween and Friday the 13th. Much as I hate to admit it, (I am one of those aforementioned film geeks) the Men In Black would have been better off leaving well enough alone.

Not that it's entirely their fault. People begged for a sequel. They pleaded, and for a while it looked like it would never happen. Director Barry Sonnenfeld was on record as saying that after the incredible success of the first MIB, there would be no possible way to pay his, Will Smith's, and Tommy Lee Jones' salaries for a revisit to this wild and wacky, comic book inspired world. But, as always, when Hollywood smells money to be made, things start happening. So here we are, five years later, and what we're given is a special effects laff-fest with a plot so wafer thin it eventually just crumbles under the weight of its stars. You'd think this would be no-brainer. Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, crazy aliens; the plot should be the easy part. And that's exactly the problem. It's as though they assumed the plot would just take care of itself, and just left it alone. The result is plain to see, towering over our heads in close to three thousand theaters across the country; special effects and silly jokes cannot hide a poorly written story with slathered on sentiment.

Said story goes like this: Will Smith (much less fun in world-weary mode), back playing J, is now a senior agent at MIB, and having considerable trouble keeping partners. One of the funnier scenes in the film has Seinfeld's Patrick Wharburton playing a rookie who just knows he's going to get neuralized. Then, just as it looks as though he's going to have to have Frank-the-talking-dog as his compadre, a world crisis erupts that only the retired K, Tommy Lee Jones, can handle. The rest is something about a light, and a war, and a beleaguered planet of Karlathians (or something like that; it all sounds the same). The adversary is a vicious little weed in the form of Lara Flynn Boyle. She, of course, wants to kill the Karlathians and steal the light - or maybe she wants to steal the light in order to kill the Karlathians. I might be better able to summarize, but after a relatively strong beginning in which the entire plot is summarized in cheesy lo-tech by Peter Graves, it all deteriorates into a "do you remember this, do you remember that" game.

Most of the old gang is back. Agents J and K, of course, as well as the worm guys, the talking dog, and Tony Shalhoub as the fast talking pawn shop dealer with regenerating heads. Also back is MIB chief, Rip Torn. Though very funny in the first film, here he just seems tired, and, though it may be just coincidence, his battle with tentacle queen Boyle smacks of Yoda-envy. New, along with Boyle, is the obnoxiously bad actor, Johnny Knoxville, as a two-headed henchman, and a host of other baddies, most of whom are little more than lame site gags. One pretty cool addition is J's new car. Originally a plain black Ford sedan, the MIB car is now a stylish Mercedes with some funny and exciting new gadgets. For the most part, however, whether it be new characters or old, I just couldn't bring myself to care.

I really wanted to like this movie. I loved the first film, and had been one of those clamoring for a sequel. I truly believed that this could be one of the rare instances where the second outshined the first. But alas, it was not to be. Men In Black II, a movie that had such potential to rise above the fray, to strike out into new territory, is foiled by that oh, so common of filmic foibles: poor writing. Columbia Pictures shouldn't have any trouble staying in the black with this one, but die-hard fans will be sure to see red. Grade: C

Men In Black II is rated PG-13 for comic violence.

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