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Alexandra Dupont wraps her beautiful brain around MEN IN BLACK 2

Hey folks, Harry here... For some reason all my interest in seeing this film has drifted away. I just watched these clips from MIB II and suddenly, I have no interest anymore. I have a chance to see it for free in an hour and 12 minutes and I just don't want to see it. I'm trying to want to go see it, but I think I'd rather watch my DVD of Cronenberg's THE FLY right now... I'm sort of in that type of mood. I hope you folks forgive me, but a vapor thin light comedy isn't what I'm in the mood for right now... Maybe I'll see it later on, but... I'm more in the mood to see a REIGN OF FIRE or ROAD TO PERDITION type of thing. Here's Alexandra, and I know Moriarty are going to let you know his thought on it. Here ya go... Oh and ya got to ask Mori, what he thought of the brilliant new Halloween movie...

The Unusually Terse Alexandra DuPont Movie Review FAQ (in Response to Numerous Talk Back Complaints About Said Reviewer's Needless Tangle of Appositive Phrases, Em Dashes and Parenthetical Remarks)

Today's subject:

Men in Black II. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, from a screenplay by Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro. Starring, once again, Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and skillfully executed, jokey creature designs by Rick Baker et al. Opens July 3.

The author's opinion of the original Men in Black:

By no means is MIB 1 high art, but even the most bile-encrusted Talk Backer might agree that it was a tight, funny, carefully constructed light entertainment — albeit one free of any subtext whatsoever. Like director Sonnenfeld's best work, it was a divertissement filled with wry (and often symmetrical) frame compositions and deadpan, ersatz-black comedic stylings. Cemented Will Smith's stardom. Wrangled Tommy Lee Jones' brilliant-but-mean-Neanderthal tendencies with extraordinary efficiency.

The author's opinion of the new Men in Black sequel:

Some inspired moments, but lacking essential narrative/comedic/Thespic/visual tightness that made the first MIB such a winner. Feels like the second episode in a "Men in Black" TV series, or perhaps Ghostbusters II. Falls apart mildly at the end. Was amused, but can barely remember plot already.

Am grieviously sorry to report this information. Have been a booster of Sonnenfeld's work for years — even when he's dropped the ball in such studio-inflated dreck as Wild Wild West; have considered BS an honest and mean-spirited and highly quotable personality, and consider his failed TV ventures ("Maximum Bob," "Fantasy Island" with Malcolm McDowell, live-action "The Tick") to be intelligent excursions, even when they didn't quite hang together.

The story:

Evil alien Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle, essentially playing herself, only with tentacles) comes to Earth seeking "The Light." She takes over MIB headquarters and enlists multiple alien thugs to join her hunt. Meanwhile, Will Smith — now a burned-out, lonely MIB vet — drags Tommy Lee Jones out of his amnesiac retirement (at an out-of-the-way post office) and tries to jog his memory. Jones, it turns out, is the only MIB agent who actually knew where "The Light" was hidden; however, he "neuralyzed" the location out of his brain, but left himself clues to find it in his coat and in pizza places and also in train-station lockers filled with tiny alien civilizations. (Which leads one to ask: Why did Jones bother deleting it from his memory in the first place if he was going to tell himself how to find it anyway via scavenger hunt? Ah — because it fleshes out the story.)

Also: Romantic interest played by Rosario Dawson, the only good thing about Josie and the Pussycats. Also also: Talking dog from first movie has big, perhaps too big, digitally impressive supporting role here that garnered many of new film's cheapest laughs.

What's good in MIB II:

(1) The multiple scale-based jokes. Things that seem big — such as world-annihilating spaceships or large aliens — are often not what they seem. Special praise to a throwaway joke involving Tommy Lee Jones sticking his finger in a mysterious sphere at MIB headquarters.

(2) Along those lines: By far the movie's best bit is one involving that tiny alien civilization living in a Grand Central Station terminal locker. They sing hymns to Tommy Lee Jones and consider the wristwatch he left behind to be a holy beacon, or something like that.

(3) Will Smith. I'm sorry, but TV's "Fresh Prince" has talent and star power to burn, even if he's not running on all burners here. His impatient eye-shifts as he tries to re-educate Jones are among the film's smartest bits of humor.

(4) There are many more aliens. They come in all shapes and sizes and are neat to look at — especially Jones' post-office coworkers. Kudos to Baker et al, again.

(5) David Cross as one of those alterna-video store clerks. While his scene is a bit "off," detailed below, watch for the shovel.

What's not so good in MIB II:

(1) The story fails to compel or make much sense. "The Light" can destroy the Earth, we're told, but when we see what "The Light" actually is, if memory serves, all the warnings about "The Light" suddenly seem nonsensical in retrospect. You'll see what I mean.

(2) On a related note, that above-described of lack of "tightness" pervades the film throughout. Jones and Smith's interplay simply fails to crackle in the same way it did in MIB 1 — and it's almost entirely a failure of (a) the writing, in which scenes sort of dribble off without punchlines, and (b) Tommy Lee Jones seeming sort of tired throughout the film. Also, the visual compositions don't stick to the back of your eye the way the last film's did.

(3) Certain jokes are milked one or two too many times. I'm thinking of the old black guy sitting in the MIB headquarters entryway, reading his paper and making some deadpan remark. I'm thinking of the talking dog. I'm thinking of the little aliens in the locker. I'm thinking of "the worm guys." I'm thinking of a (purposely) badly staged television re-enactment of the film's central flashback hosted by Peter Graves.

(4) Patrick Warburton is a big funny man. He's kind of wasted here in his brief bit as an agent trainee.

(5) While David Cross grabbing a shovel is funny, the movie's attempted satirization of alterna-video store culture is well and thoroughly off the mark. Trash-film snobs of Cross's character's ilk are blue-collar hipsters who "ironically" drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, wear T-shirts emblazoned "ironically" with Hanna-Barbera characters and other cheese-culture logos, and sneer at their "lessers" out of a combination of misplaced entitlement and fear of failure. In MIB II, however Cross's trash-film snob character is instead the clichéd "geek who lives in his mommy's attic." A wasted opportunity for real satire, if you ask me.

Summary of findings:

Audience at test-screening laughed quite a bit at the start, generously wanting to be entertained. That enthusiasm trailed off toward the end; screening ending with only light smattering of applause. My perception was that of a collective shrug and a collective resolution to take the kids to Hardee's afterward and never speak or think of the film again. Everyone in America will see this movie exactly once.

Awaken, Sonnenfeld! Awaken! You have been middling- to quite-good in the past!

Aiming not to provoke, but to inspire,

— Alexandra DuPont
dupont@dvdjournal.com








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