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Men in Black II

Michael Jackson’s cameo is the scariest thing in Men in Black II, and Jacko is not even playing an alien. Nothing else about this enjoyable if so-five-years-ago sequel to the rectum-kicking comic fantasia of summer 1997 will catch you off guard. What the ads promise — same planet/new scum — the movie delivers. Conceived in greed (it took this long to get MIBII made because Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were hammering out paydays and back-end deals), the sequel is more mechanical than inspired.

Credit Smith and Jones for not looking bored by a script that is basically a grab bag of scenes with no unifying idea. Agent Jay (Smith) is now the designated cool dude at the Manhattan HQ of Men in Black — the secret agency run by Zed (Rip Torn, again a treat) that polices alien activity on Earth. That’s because Agent Kay (Jones) had his memory erased by a neuralyzer in Part One and went off to run a post office in Massachusetts. It’s worth at least a smile to see Jones, the hard case incarnate, teaching customers how to properly wrap a package. And Smith, fresh from his Ali Oscar nod, is at his jiggiest. Nothing upstages him, not even the giant worm he rides through the subway. Jay has replaced Kay’s old Ford LTD with the “new hotness,” a 2003 E-500 model Mercedes, but he wants his partner back. Right now, he’s stuck with Frank the talking pug (voiced by Tim Blaney), a scene stealer with a potty mouth and a yen for cigars and singing “I Will Survive.” Frank sniffs like a horn dog when Jay falls for Laura (sweet Rosario Dawson), a witness to an alien attack. When Jay refuses to take love advice from “a dude that chases his own ass,” Frank cries “canine profiling.”

The script, by Robert Gordon (Galaxy Quest, good) and Barry Fanaro (The Crew, not good), labors intensively to make us care that Earth may be destroyed if the Light of Zartha falls into the hands of the man-eating Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle laying on the sass), a Kylothian root creature who takes the form of a Victoria’s Secret model, and her two-headed henchman, Scrad/Charlie, played by Johnny “Jackass” Knoxville.ure it’s hard to believe; I can’t believe I typed the word Kylothian. What matters is Smith and Jones, whose snappy comic timing hasn’t rusted, and the creature stuff from Rick Baker. The Worm Guys, who regenerate when cut in half, now have a bachelor pad. Also returning is Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub), whose head grows back when Kay blows it off with the Noisy Cricket gun. Then there’s the alien civilization living in a locker in Grand Central Station.

It’s visual magic, and director Barry Sonnenfeld, who followed his MIB high with the lows of Wild Wild West and Big Trouble, revels in it. He doesn’t so much direct MIBII as load it with cool stuff and flit around to whatever takes his fancy. As summer escapism goes, you could do worse.

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