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Movie review: ‘Men in Black’ is running on empty
BY ROB HEDELT
“MEN IN BLACK III” (PG–13) (2 stars)
WILL SMITH, TOMMY LEE JONES, JOSH BROLIN, EMMA THOMPSON
In sci-fi flicks like this one, a time-travel wrinkle is often a sign that the story being told needs the trick to prop it up.
That’s the case here, as the franchise that was such quirky fun in the first outing and funny enough in the second is running on fumes here.
What’s missing, strangely, is the edgy chemistry between the quip-snapping Agent J (Will Smith) and the hound-dog grouch Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), the pair that were such fun to watch in the first two films as they took on a strange host of bizarre aliens.
This time out, Jones is almost a no-show, so morose about something viewers won’t understand until the film’s end that he barely registers as present.
Smith is still funny, but not quite the scene-stealer he’s been in other films. It’s as if he’s settling for one or two shots of him mugging or frowning instead of really selling the film’s humor.
Both actors seem like they’re just a little tired of pulling on the black suits and pulling out those oversized alien-blasters.
Also lackluster: the bad guy the MIB are chasing.
As a wacky singer in his pay-cable show, Jemaine Clement was a hoot.
As “Boris The Animal,” a bizarre alien with bad teeth, critters that crawl out of his hands and deadly spikes he can shoot at foes, Clement gets tiresome.
In fact, all the strange aliens encountered here start to feel a little silly, as if the series is having to go further and further to surprise viewers.
The saving grace for this film is the arrival of Josh Brolin in the time-travel sequence, playing the young Agent K.
Where the latter-day MIB feel a bit tiresome, Brolin makes the young Agent K a whole hunk of fun.
He still has a bit of the deadpan Agent K is known for, but he’s also got some fun under that Texas drawl, bringing some neat energy to both the character and the film.
It’s enough to make you wonder if there might be a way to keep him in the series, as Jones seems tired of it all and Brolin seems to be having a ball.
More MIB films set in the past? Some way to bring the young K from the past to the future? Hey, anything’s possible in a sci-fi film like this.
I missed Rip Torn as the MIB boss, though Emma Thompson is an interesting choice to replace him.
It’s a pity they make her quote an alien at the boss’s funeral, sounding like a complete idiot as she utters the bizarre alien language.
Another approach they might use to prop up the series, which still offers neat special effects, might be to expand the cast.
Bring in some others on the MIB team, the same way they rejuvenated the “Mission Impossible” team with some new and younger characters/actors. Or hand it over to one of the new, talented directors out there.
Another helpful hint: Dial back on use of the gizmo that wipes the memories of citizens who see MIB fighting aliens.
It’s overdone so much here, with Smith’s Agent J saying silly stuff each time he uses it, that it quickly ceases being funny.
The other possibility: Maybe the series has run its course.
If there aren’t some new and creative ways to energize the series, it would be better to let it fade away.
Though a series that’s made hundreds of millions of dollars probably won’t quit until folks quit buying so many tickets.
Rated PG–13 for sci–fi action violence, brief suggestive content. 104 min. [MC, RA, RF]