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Men in Black

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
3 stars out of 4

As I walked towards the exit after the sneak preview of "Men In Black", I bumped into a buddy of mine. We stood in the aisle with big, dumb grins on our faces, like giddy children, gushing praise over the utterly delightful film we'd just experienced. After suffering through weeks of one summer mega-dud after another, it was exhilarating to finally see a movie that paid-off as richly as this one did. Not only were we eager to see "MiB" again as soon as possible, we actually found ourselves talking about how cool the SEQUEL would be.

"MiB" is a smart, breezy, very funny amalgam of "Ghostbusters" and "The X- Files", with a little "Pulp Fiction" and "Dragnet" thrown in to boot. The premise is simple. For decades, aliens have been using our backwater little planet as an intergalactic getaway; a nice spot for a fresh start and a good place to hide. "Ever see the movie ‘Casablanca?'", says Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), "We're sort of the same thing, only without Nazis." K is one of the MiB, super-secret government agents in charge of all activities related to the immigration and policing of extraterrestrials. When K's partner decides to retire, a group of men are recruited as possible replacements. One member of the group, a brash young New York cop (Will Smith), emerges as the clear stand-out and, in short order, becomes K's new partner, J.

What makes "MiB" so hilarious is the remarkably deadpan, matter-of-fact tone of the ultra-smooth agents. K, his boss Zed (Rip Torn), and the other MiB deal with the incredibly bizarre goings-on without ever raising an eyebrow. Dressed in black suits, white shirts and Ray Bans, these guys are the epitome of retro-cool. Saving the world from giant insect-like psychos…hey, it's just part of a day's work.

The aliens live among us, by the way. You know those particularly odd people you encounter, the ones who seem a little too weird to be real? Well, according to "MiB", they're not. Those folks are aliens masquerading as humans, trying to get a feel for their new forms. As the MiB monitors reveal, many of our more "unique" well-known citizens are actually aliens in disguise. This theory, incidentally, could go a long way towards explaining Regis and Kathy Lee.

The aliens in "MiB" are amazing to behold; wonderfully imaginative creatures that blend seamlessly with the live performers. But this is one movie where dazzling special effects don't outshine the actors. Bug-eyed monsters be damned, this show belongs to Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Smith is an beguiling Everyman, with style and attitude to spare, but Tommy Lee Jones steals the picture in one of the best performances of his career. His craggy features and steely expression make the outrageous seem normal. His droll, laconic delivery is absolutely dead-on. But beneath his Ray Bans are the eyes of a man who has suffered. The sacrifice K made when he dedicated his life to MiB weighs heavy on his spirit and Jones has wistful, reflective moments that one rarely sees in this sort of rollicking comedy. Jones is both the anchor and the heart of the film.

Sharp direction from Barry Sonnenfeld ("Get Shorty") and crisp, tight editing result in a movie that races by, clocking in at an efficient 97 minutes. What a relief to see a summer blockbuster that understands the old adage "less is more".

"MiB" is not without flaws. After a spectacular beginning, the film sags just a bit in the middle section, as K & J's investigation of an rampaging alien becomes a little too down to earth. A subplot involving Linda Fiorentino as an insightful and sexually assertive medical examiner is underdeveloped and, at the end of the film, Will Smith's J still seems too inexperienced for the huge responsibilities thrust upon him.

These are minor quibbles, though. The bottom line is that "MiB" is an absolute hoot, a fully realized sci-fi detective comedy with a sublime sense of cool. Other movies, notably "Mars Attacks!" and "The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai", have captured this ironic-hip sensibility, but lost the mainstream audience along the way. "MiB" should not suffer their fate. With its little green flippers firmly on the pulse of the public's tastes, "MiB" should easily become one of the years biggest hits. What's even better, it deserves to be.

Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott

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