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Men in Black

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1.  MrBrown review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

UFOs. Aliens. Slime. Will Smith. What more can you ask for? In the case of last year's Independence Day, a self-awareness of its inherent ridiculousness would have helped. That problem does not befall Smith's latest bout with creatures from outer space, Barry Sonnenfeld's witty and fun sci-fi-action-comedy Men in Black.

In this adaptation of Lowell Cunningham's obscure Marvel/Malibu comic, Smith stars as a New York cop who is recruited by mysterious Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) into the ultrasecret underground group known as the Men in Black, which overlook intergalactic relations. It is up to Agent K and the newly christened Agent J to prevent an alien bug disguised as a farmer (Vincent D'Onofrio) from stealing a galaxy and thereby causing an interplanetary war and, in turn, the destruction of earth.

If this sounds a tad confusing to you, you're not alone. MiB's biggest problem is its story--the primary plot cooked up by screenwriter Ed Solomon is introduced fairly late in the game and never completely adds up (just what is the deal with the bag of marbles at the end?). But by the time the nominal plot takes center stage, the film has already won you over with the script's witty one-liners, self-effacing sense of humor, and bashes at pop culture (Sylvester Stallone is skewered in one of the more inspired gags); and its imaginative production design (by Bo Welch) and visual effects (supervised by Eric Brevig). Most impressive, however, are the alien makeup effects designed by Rick Baker. The creatures look like exactly that--living, breathing alien creatures and not animatronic puppets. Especially convincing is an alien infant whom J delivers; slinky, squidlike, and covered in slime, the expressive baby alien succeeds in doing what the best human infants do onscreen--look cute and elicit "aw"s.

As impressive a technical achievement MiB is, it would not have worked without a strong lead duo, and Jones and Smith make a great team. Smith's natural, infectious ebullience plays off well against the stoic Jones, who is at his deadpan best, engaging in some ridiculous situations with the straightest of faces. It is one thing to wear a straight face while having a heated discussion with an uncooperative dog, but it's quite a whole other level of achievement to do that and convincingly appear to treat the situation with the gravest of seriousness. Jones's K never shakes off his grim face even when he is joking, making his performance that much more effective and funny. D'Onofrio has some great slapstick moments as the insect who hasn't quite got the hang of wearing a human skin suit, and though she's underused, Linda Fiorentino, as coroner Dr. Laurel Weaver, fits quite snugly with the team of Jones and Smith.

Men in Black is certain not to reach the stratospheric box office heights of Smith's bountiful bout with aliens last summer, but in shedding the self-importance and jingoism of the two-hour-plus ID4 and taking on a most welcome self-aware sense of humor, the lean, mean, 98-minute MiB is not just a better film, it's also a lot more fun.

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