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
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