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'Men in Black' is half of a fun sci fi flick

Lousy unfunny first haf revs up the energy when Brolin creates fresh chemistry

POSTED: May 24, 2012 12:30 a.m.

(Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are back, and that’s an extremely mixed blessing.

One story binds all of “Men in Black III,” but in terms of action, comedy and general quality, it plays like two completely different films. The first act is so bad I can hardly believe those scenes actually made it into the final cut, but the rest of the movie is loads of fun and surprisingly emotional.

More than anything, the first act is shockingly slow. The filmmakers seemed to think all we needed was to see Smith and Jones together again. They counted on the actors’ chemistry to elevate weak writing.

It doesn’t. We go long stretches without anything that resembles a joke, and the few jokes we do get fall totally flat.

J makes cracks about K never smiling or opening up. Didn’t we cover this back in 1997?

There are two neuralizer scenes, one when J neuralizes a group of gawkers and comes up with a lame story to replace their memories of the aliens they just saw. Neither scene is funny and one is ruined by the trailer anyway.

Neither Jones nor Smith looks like he is having any fun. Kind of hard to produce chemistry when both actors look bored.

The best joke of the first act? We see J playing video games in his bedroom, and there is a huge portrait of an adorable pug dog hanging on the wall behind him. It’s unexpected and earns a chuckle. That’s as fine as the comedy gets for a solid half hour.

Mercifully, the story launches the movie into the past, at which point it takes on a whole new energy.

Way back in 1969, K battled a particularly ferocious alien named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement). Boris is an interesting species. He has a fleshy, spider-like creature that nestles into a hole in his hand and crawls out to do his bidding. It’s as if Salvador Dalí and David Cronenberg collaborated on the character design.

The mysterious clash between K and Boris resulted in Boris being imprisoned in a secret Lunar facility, K deploying the Arcnet surveillance system which alerts the Men in Black to any alien activity near Earth, and K becoming the stoic, emotionally void man we know.

Boris escapes the prison during the opening sequence, however, and plans to travel back in time (he learned about time travel from a fellow inmate) to kill K and the rest of mankind along with him.

In fact, Boris does go back in time. K does too, trying to handle the situation himself. We don’t see this, but whatever happens does change history. Overnight, only J and a few other agents even remember K and a full-scale alien attack is under way.

With the help of current MIB head and K’s old flame, O (Emma Thompson), J goes back in time to rewrite history again.

From the moment J meets the man (Michael Chernus) who will help him time travel, the pace picks up and the movie is saved, mostly by two actors.

Josh Brolin is perfect as young agent K. Smith and Brolin have the kind of chemistry we formerly enjoyed between Smith and Jones.

But the real hero of MIB III is Michael Stuhlbarg. He plays Griffin, a five-dimensional being who exists in all times and is constantly aware of all possible realities. Stuhlbarg is funny and irresistible, and he gives the movie an enormous lift as soon as he enters.

So what’s the final tally of the movie’s two unequal parts?

You shouldn’t have to pay for the first 30 minutes of this movie. But if you’re an MIB fan, you probably don’t want to miss the last 75 minutes. So arrive late. Maybe the theatre will pro-rate your ticket price?

Judged as a whole film, this is a rental. Especially in a summer that offers so many other, better movies.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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