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Men in Black

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Review by Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

Last year at this time, the number-one box office attraction was INDEPENDENCE DAY, featuring a wise-cracking Will Smith battling aliens. This year at this time, the number-one box office attraction is MEN IN BLACK, featuring a wise-cracking Will Smith battling aliens. History repeats itself. I repeat myself. Both movies are effects-driven action romps that play much better in a packed multiplex on a huge screen. The flaws, I'm sure, shine through a lot brighter if you're home by yourself watching it on your 13" Sony.

The plot of MEN IN BLACK is simplified to an almost Corky-like point -- funded by but independent from the U.S. government is a super-secret organization that tracks and controls extra-terrestrial activity. A group of Armani-suit-clad men in black carry out the peaceful and violent tasks of the organization, although for plot purposes, we only see the violent ones.

Tommy Lee Jones, pretty much reprising his character in THE FUGITIVE, is the no-nonsense veteran of alien battle. Will Smith, absolutely reprising his ID4 character, is the young, cocksure cop recruited by Jones toward the beginning, after Jones sees him chase down an alien on foot. Smith doesn't know it's an alien, of course, and once he finds out his memory of it is erased by Jones with a gizmo that comes in handy for anyone with something to cover up. Clinton would never have been sued by Paula Jones if he had one.

Smith and Jones are out to track down an insect alien inhabiting Vincent D'Onofrio's human body. The alien is after some diamonds that turn up on a dead alien body attended to by kinky morgue worker Linda Fiorentino. She's in the movie, as always, to add a little sex appeal, although her flirtatious scenes with Smith mostly fall flat. It's her unsurprising but still interesting turn as the film's third hero that elevates her from being just another movie sexpot.

Rick Baker, hot off his plumper work in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, does the alien effects here. A lot of them are standard-issue "creature" aliens, like the oversized beatle that serves as the movie's villain. There are weird-looking but harmless Cantina band types and a few nice touches, like the talking pug that steals a scene about halfway through the movie. The effects aren't groundbreaking, or really even that special, but they do help keep the movie entertaining.

The best thing about MEN IN BLACK is the men in black -- Smith and Jones. They have so much fun with their roles that we have fun watching them. The movie also has enough constant one-liners that it seems more comedy at times than action, like a modern-day GHOSTBUSTERS. The downside to it all, and this is what separates it from the far-superior and far-funnier GHOSTBUSTERS, is it's incredibly low-brow. For every funny line there's a lame one, and the plot is transparent. If you have a brain, leave it at the door or under the seat, because it will only get in the way of your fun. If you don't have a brain, you can't read this anyway.

Copyright 2000 Andrew Hicks

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