Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones reprise their ancient roles as Agents J and K in an adventure in which the renowned alien hunters travel back in time. Josh Brolin plays a younger, meaner version of K.
There’s never been a summer quite like the summer of 1969. Humans first set foot on the moon, Charlie Manson became a lethal menace, tie-dyed youngsters trekked to Max Yasgur’s farm and Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge, plunging his presidential hopes into the drink with him. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But none of those seminal events can compare to what happened to the vaunted Men in Black during those lazy, crazy days of ’69.
In fact, it was so life-altering, the movie mongers in Hollywood have deemed it worth a $220-million, special-effects laden retelling starring a quartet of pulsating stars that have either won or been nominated for Oscars. And what a long, strange trip it is. From visits to Andy Warhol’s Factory to a swing past Shea Stadium to anoint those “Amazin’ Mets, just three months before they shocked America by winning the World Series. I half expected Joe Namath to show up as the reigning Super Bowl MVP. But the Jets aren’t the topic of conversation in “Men in Black III,” it’s aliens. Or, more precisely, one in particular going by the dastardly nickname of Boris the Animal (zany Jermaine Clement), a one-armed, dentally challenged extraterrestrial with a chip on his shoulder and a mechanical crab tucked snuggly under his right palm.
He’s just broken out of Lunar Max, the Alcatraz of the universe, and he’s looking for revenge against the long, tall Texan who put him there 43 years earlier. That guy, by the way, is Agent K, or, as he’s better known to us Earthlings, Tommy Lee Jones. But it’s not the wrinkly eyed version of K he’s after; it’s K’s younger self, who in the summer of ’69 bears a stronger resemblance to the jovial, fun-loving Josh Brolin. Wait a minute! K funny and gregarious? What planet is this guy from? Well, Earth, actually. But in his younger days, K, we learn, was quite a jolly chap, not the curmudgeon he is today as the surlier half of the highly touted alien-fighting duo of Agents J and K. How K transformed into that wet blanket is the ultimate discovery waiting at the end of “MiB3’s” jaunt down the yellow-brick road. It’s quite a revelation, too; one that might even trigger tears. But getting there is even sadder, as series director Barry Sonnenfeld oversees a succession of unfunny obstacles for K and his new running partner from the future, J (Will Smith), to negotiate before their climactic showdown with not one, but two Boris the Animals on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy (mistakenly referred to as Cape Canaveral in the movie) just seconds before the liftoff of the historic Apollo 11 spacecraft.
The astronauts’ trip to the moon that day seems downright quaint, though, compared to the distance Agent J travels back in time to save the life of the young K. Not satisfied with strapping J into the traditional time machine, Sonnenfeld and his more than half-dozen uncredited writers devise something even dumber. And it involves jumping off the Chrysler Building in Manhattan. What the stunt lacks in logic is made up for in the shear thrill of watching America’s favorite movie star plunging toward the street at warp speed, not sure if he’ll break his neck or the time barrier.
Lucky for him – not so much us – he lands smack in the middle of 1969, with only hours to save K and perhaps mankind from the nefarious dealings of Boris from another planet. Granted, seeing J and K show up at The Factory to chat with Warhol (turns out he really hates the counterculture) is pretty humorous. But the rest of the material, like the lengthy discussion about the Amazin’ Mets, mostly falls flat – and I can guarantee it will play even worse in Baltimore. Yet, you keep watching simply because Smith is so doggone appealing. And is there any actor he doesn’t have instant chemistry with? When he hooks up with Brolin for the first time, it’s like they’ve been friends for decades.
The film’s look is equally impressive with the great Bill Pope supplying the crackling cinematography and the even greater Rick Baker providing the dozens of clever alien monster getups. And believe me, artistry is what this film has in spades. What it lacks is a reason to care. It’s been 15 years since the first “MiB” dazzled the world and a decade since the awful “MiB2” left that same world aghast. And for “III” to work, it needed something more imaginative than time travel to reawaken the original’s magic. Still, it’s not a totally unpleasant way to spend an escapist evening, but considering the talent involved – including Emma Thompson and Alice Eve as the younger and older versions of K’s honey, the lovely Agent O – “Men in Black III,” true to its premise, should have been far, far more out of this world.
MEN IN BLACK III
(PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content.) Cast includes Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Emma Thompson. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. 2 stars out of 4