MEN IN BLACK II
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Lara Flynn Boyle, Rosario Dawson, Johnny Knoxville, Rip Torn
MPAA Rating: (for sci-fi action violence and some provocative humor)
Running Time: 1:28
Release Date: 7/3/02
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Men in Black II is a cynicism-generator. It suggests a big-budget scrounging for profit in almost every fiber of its being. The movie is simply a recycled version of the original, losing the majority of the humor and all the originality of that film. Can Hollywood really be this obvious with a blatant attempt to make a buck? Maybe it wouldnít be so apparent if not for the fact that everyone involved in the production seems so assured of themselves. After all, this isnít rocket science. "Weíve got one big success with this material in the bag," I can hear the filmmakers saying. "This oneís guaranteed to do the same." Those of us who love film like to imagine that filmmakers consider the artistic or even creative possibilities and responsibilities that accompany cinema, but when a movie like this comes along, itís a wakeup call. Men in Black II is a reminder that sometimes movies do solely exist so that a studio and the people who helped produce it can make money.
In July of 2002 (itís almost as if the time frame of the story was chosen because thatís when the movie is releasedóimagine that), a tiny spaceship containing a small worm-like creature lands in New York City. The creature is called Serleena. Taking the appearance of an underwear model (Lara Flynn Boyle), Serleena is searching Earth for the Light of Zartha, which has eluded her for the past twenty-five years. Elsewhere in the city, Agent J (Will Smith) has spent the past five years working for the Men in Black, a secret government agency that monitors and patrols extraterrestrial activity on Earth. J has been having a hard time keeping partners since his mentor K (Tommy Lee Jones) quit five years ago. He might even be considering quitting himself. While investigating the murder of an alien disguised as a pizza shop owner, J develops feelings for the only witness to the crime, one of the restaurantís employees Laura (Rosario Dawson). From Laura, J discovers that the killer was Serleena. J soon learns from MIB leader Zed (Rip Torn) of Serleenaís plan and that the only man who can save the planet from possible destruction is K, now the postmaster of a small town.
Itís quite possible to count the number of new characters and situations in Men in Black II on your two hands; the rest has already been dealt with in the original. The sequel assumes that the presentation of so many returning characters is enough of a joke to justify their appearance and constitute the majority of the movieís humor. Remember the long line of traveling aliens in the MIB headquarters? Or Tony Shalhoub as the shop owner whose head could grow back after being shot off? Or the talking dog that stole the minute or two of screentime it had in the first? Theyíre all present here, and the jokes havenít changed. Just replace the name-dropping of famous aliens with a cameo appearance by Michael Jackson. Thatís the irresolvable problem with the movie: everything that made the original fresh is now old news. The new elements donít even come close to achieving the kind of inspired wackiness that made the first film successful. A giant worm in the subway is used as an excuse for an action sequence (most likely because there arenít too many comedic possibilities involving a giant worm in the subway). Even the special effects, so important in the success of a movie like this, feel tiredóthe rough edges of their design prominent in every frame.
Most of the cast has returned for this venture, but (wisely) staying away is Linda Fiorentino whose character isnít even mentioned in this movie despite the fact that the original set up her membership in the MIB. Beyond the imaginative effects and gags, at the core of the original filmís success was the interaction between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, who gave a pleasant edge to the typical veteran/rookie cop relationship. Jones is a master of dry wit, and Smith was just right as the ignorant but assured newcomer. Things have changed here. Smithís character is now simply assured, almost cocky. Jones makes a relatively late entrance into the proceedings leaving Smith with a pair of different partnersóthe underused Patrick Warburton (of "Seinfeld" fame) and the amusing talking pug. Once Jones returns, he never gets a chance to allow his character to return to normal. This shift in character dynamic takes its toll and is never able to match the skilled repartee of the first film.
I have no ill will toward Men in Black II; I am simply left downhearted by the sense of ease and, as a result, laziness exhibited by the production as a whole. To take something that worked (and worked quite well) and salvage and pawn everything from it simply for profit leaves me a bit saddened. Based on the resolution of the story and the premonition that it will make lots of money, Iím pretty sure Men in Black III is on the way. Two adages that Hollywood still needs to learn: If it isnít broke, donít fix it; and leave well enough alone.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.