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Men in Black

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Review by Jerry Saravia
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Do we really need more movies about aliens? Since the success of the mediocre "Independence Day," the multiplex has been full of them. Television has "The famous black-and-white footage of a supposed alien autopsy. We have also had the marvelously witty and wicked satire "Mars Attacks!" but seriously folks, the thrill is gone. "Men in Black" is an entertainingly engaging comedy, and is full of whiz-bang effects galore, but it doesn't come close to the level of "Mars Attacks!"

During the opening sequence, we see Will Smith as a cop chasing a remarkably fast and superhuman killer who leaps from a high-rise building and disappears. It turns out the killer is an alien, and the Man in Black (Tommy Lee Jones) arrives on the scene and blasts Will's face with some kind of flashlight stick called a "neuralizer." Pretty soon, Smith hesitantly joins Jones in a secret organization called M.I.B., led by a big boss played by Rip Torn who "works 27 hours a day." Their job is to monitor the 1,500 extraterrestrials who disguise themselves as humans and are mostly residing in Manhattan. Any human memory of aliens is zapped by the M.I.B's neuralizers. The aliens themselves are not really evil or monstrous, they are really annoying! One of them even disguises himself as a dog.

One evil visitor lands in a farmer's backyard. The bug-like alien kills the farmer and assumes human form as played by Vincent D'Onofrio - he becomes a decomposing zombie with an obvious limp. This becomes a sly, amusing joke and it as wacky and overdone as you can imagine. Still, director Barry Sonnenfeld ("Get Shorty") has a commonplace flaw - he tends to take the spontaneity out of all the numerous gags and jokes by presenting them one after another and compressing them, and then giving us some dead space until the truly funny climax. This become more overbearing than exhilarating, and you might forget most of the jokes since they slip by so quickly. "Men in Black" runs by at a full-throttle speed of 98 minutes, but it never truly takes off.

The performances hit all the right notes. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith have great comic chemistry and seem to be having a great time. D'Onofrio is a real riot to watch, although Linda Fiorentino is underutilized, as most female leads are nowadays, as a doctor who is constantly neuralized. The biggest scene stealer is an alien disguised as a dog ("You can kiss my furry little butt.") that provides the biggest laugh in the entire movie.

The visual effects are impressive, especially the final shot of an alien holding the entire universe on the palm of his hand, and Sonnenfeld has a quick directorial eye (his visual inventiveness since "The Addams Family," though, has diminished). The movie is definitely fun yet somewhat dispiriting, and is not half as clever as the original "Ghostbusters." Another flaw is that it starts and stops frequently after a bright, rhythmic half-hour - a problem that conflicts most box-office bonanzas. It's decent fun but, frankly, I've had it with aliens and would prefer more dinosaurs any day.

Copyright 2000 Jerry Saravia

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