The original Men in Black (1997) is one of my all-time favorite movies, just for originality and sheer attitude. Director Barry Sonnenfeld, production designer Bo Welch, and stars Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, and Vincent D’Onofrio achieved near perfection with a tone that was just off-center and the essence of cool. The story and special effects were perfectly satisfying, but the movie was all about throwaway lines like “Now I’m going to have to buy the white album again” and “We’re not hosting an intergalactic kegger down here.” I highly recommend the DVD, which has one of the best packages of extras I have ever seen, especially the commentary from Jones and Sonnenfeld.
The sequel has flickers of the original spirit, but it is like a fifth generation photocopy, a blurry reproduction rather than a re-imagined original.
Sonnenfeld, Welch, Jones, and Smith return, along with MiB1’s Rip Torn and Tony Shaloub, but the movie squanders our pleasure at seeing favorite characters return and then makes things worse when the additions and new characters are not up to their level. Worst of all, the underlying story line is lackluster, with plot holes and a brief running time that suggest that we may get a lot of deleted scenes on the DVD.
At the end of MiB1, agent J (Smith) erases the memories of his partner, K (Jones), so that he can return to a normal life. But as MiB2 begins, a scary-looking alien (disguised, of course, as a Victoria’s Secret model and played by Lara Flynn Boyle) returns to earth and only K knows how to deal with her. J has to track K down (he works for a post office in Massachusetts), un-erase his memory, and work with him to save the planet from the scum of the universe.
Along the way, they meet up with a variety of characters, both alien (a subway-swallowing serpentish thing named Jeff and the cutest little furry guys since Dr. Seuss) and human (the very lovely Rosario Dawson). The talking dog and smart-alecky worm guys from MiB1 are back with more screen time as well.
Parents should know that the PG-13 rating is for intense peril, graphic violence (comic-book-style), some gross-out special effects, and some vulgar humor, including a sight gag about kneeing an alien’s most vulnerable spot. Some viewers will find the resolution of the story unsettling.
Families who see this movie should talk about what they think creatures from other planets might be like, and why the way we think about them tells us more about us than it does about them. Why doesn’t J want to erase Rita’s memory? Why is it important to find someone you can tell your real feelings to?