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Men In Black II
Reviewed by Kenn McCracken, © 2002

Format: Movie
By:   Barry Sonnenfeld (director)
Genre:   Science Fiction / Comedy
Review Date:   July 18, 2002
RevSF Rating:   4/10 (What Is This?)

Some movies are made to be franchises; some aren't. Sometimes bad franchises produce surprisingly good films, in was the case with Exorcist III; more often, though, a concept that seems like it should produce a never-ending string of no-brain hits spawns a disaster. Comic films have been the worst offenders in this category: the later Batman films, the last two Superman movies, and now Men In Black II. As rich and promising as the core concept is—think Lethal Weapon with a sci-fi twist—the execution is far from flawless.

As was the case the first time around, the film is centered on the near mythic Men in Black, the government agency so secretive that they are barely aware of their own existence. Their job is to hunt down alien life on Earth, keeping the good ETs secret and the bad ETs gone. As might be predicted, hilarity ensues.

It's not as though the cast and crew aren't up to the job, but the hilarity in MIIB doesn't do a lot of ensuing. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith (love him or hate him) make a fantastic team of straight man and joker, both on paper and in the original; Tony Shaloub is a fine actor with great comedic timing; and heaven knows that Rip Torn is the king of dry and slightly charbroiled wit. Sadly, you wouldn't know much of this watching the new film. Part of it is the script; largely, though, it seems more like the actors and director are to blame.

The problem is that everyone involved seems like they're there for no reason at all. The entire affair comes off as—well, not even halfhearted; more like half-assed, really. The funny lines are as passionless as the the straight; Tommy Lee Jones carries himself as though he were really irritated at being dragged out of retirement, and Will Smith seems to have wanted to join him. Even Lara Flynn Boyle, normally a natural at playing a cruel, icy villainess, comes across like she'd rather be in court.

This might all be forgivable if there was anything at all of significance about the movie, but sadly, there's not. The plot is predictable—alien life on earth is bad, and it's up to the heroes to save the day, with lots of alien run-ins along the way. The special effects are not bad, but nothing impressive in this day and age of digital miracles. The score, the script, the editing, the entire production—there's nothing here to cause so much as a stir in the audience. It's not a film to walk out of, but it certainly won't keep you glued to your seat.

Perhaps the ultimate tragedy is that a huge budget was spent, and a great cast and crew gathered, just to put together an ultimately uninspired and forgettable package. The teaser might have been altered a bit to truly capture the feel: "Same planet. New Scum. Might as well rent the DVD." Just remember, on your way in—all those people you see walking out with the zombie-like stare, the ones who look like they've just been hit with the memory-stealing Neuralizer from the movie? That'll be you in about an hour and a half.

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