Men in Black II

Men in Black II

USA, 2002. Rated PG-13. 88 minutes.

Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle, Rip Torn, Rosario Dawson, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub, Patrick Warburton, Tim Blaney (voice)
Writers: Robert Gordon (story & screenplay) and Barry Fanaro (screenplay), based on the comic book by Lowell Cunningham
Music: Danny Elfman, Will Smith (song)
Cinematographer: Greg Gardiner
Producers: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld


Grade: D+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

Despite its tremendous popularity, the first Men in Black (my rating: C-) was a short, slight film that relied on cutting-edge special effects, funny one-liners, and a tight straight-man/clown routine by co-stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith to create its successful summer-movie blend. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Men in Black II is also a short, slight film that relies on special effects, one-liners, and a straight-man/clown routine by co-stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Except that the effects aren't cutting-edge anymore, and the comedic elements aren't as funny. This is, after all, a sequel, and like many sequels, it is an unsatisfying rehash of an old idea with nothing original added to the mix.

The plot makes no sense, not that it matters. Basically, it involves an unpleasant alien (Lara Flynn Boyle sprouting computer-generated tentacles when she's not walking around in lingerie) coming to Earth to recover a lost artifact, wreaking havoc in the process--same deal as the first movie. The story functions solely as a device to pit nasty computer-generated aliens against Agents J (Smith) and K (Jones). However, a problem: at the end of the original Men in Black, Agent K had "neuralized" himself (i.e., erased his memories of the top-secret Men in Black Agency, dedicated to policing the alien population on Earth) in order to rejoin his true love and live a life uncomplicated by giant green goblins from outer space, or the New York subway system. Meanwhile, Agent J's love interest, played by Linda Fiorentino, had joined the agency to replace K. Obviously, Men in Black II needs to get Agent K back in uniform. The conclusion to the first film is quickly undone. Agent J's true love has left him, we are told, giving him no reason to object to being a gun-toting, sunglasses-wearing, alien booty kicker. Too much FrankAs for Fiorentino…either she passed on the script or the studio soured on her, because she's not in the movie.

One wonders whether they need have bothered getting Agent K back. Jones seems utterly uninterested and dispirited, leaving Smith to carry the film. It's thanks to Smith that Men in Black II is not a total waste of time. Most of the memorable comic moments are his. Perhaps the best one is when he indirectly pokes fun at sequels, declaring emphatically to Agent K as he prepares to resume his old job, "This is the last suit you'll ever wear!" and then adding awkwardly, "…again." There is an undeniable sensation that Smith has become a far bigger star than Jones, who after a great decade is falling off the A-list of actors. Theirs is an unequal partnership, unbalancing the film. Rip Torn is also a welcome presence, as always, as the Agency chief, doing the same kind of gregarious yet acerbic comedy that he used to do on The Larry Sanders Show. Boyle also gets a couple of choice moments, particularly when she gets to make fun of the fact that some people attribute her notoriously skinny frame to an eating disorder.

Less successful is Frank the talking dog/alien, whose every moment on screen is one moment too many. He sings Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"; he barks to The Baja Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out"; he makes a general nuisance of himself. The cameos by Tony Shalhoub (barely recognizable under face prothetics and bad teeth) and Seinfeld's Patrick Warburton fall similarly (though less painfully) flat. Rosario Dawson, as Agent J's new love interest, isn't given much to do other than act frightened or like she's attracted to Agent J, depending on the context. The over-saturation of special effects isn't a draw, either. Though creatively envisioned, the computer-generated images look like they're made with the same technology that was available to the makers of the original five years ago. The monsters are cartoon-like and quite obviously fake.

A chilly, calculated enterprise, Men in Black II is not so much written as it is diagrammed, designed merely to transport the audience from one high point to the next. It's an 88-minute highlight reel that's 86 minutes too long. The Men in Black II trailer delivers all the highlights just as well and wastes far less of your time, so you can squeeze in a real movie afterward.

Review © July 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2002 Columbia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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