Friday Film Review: Men in Black
We’re “them.” We’re “they.” We are the Men in Black.
I thought I’d throw another bromance onto the review heap. Not that Agent J and Dr. Laurel Weaver’s flirting isn’t enjoyable but the real strength of this film is how well Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith play off each other as their characters attempt to save the Earth.
Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) has been helping to save the planet and monitor the aliens who live here for close to 35 years. When his partner reluctantly decides it’s time to retire, Kay and his boss Zed (Rip Torn) begin to test and audition replacements. James Edwards (Will Smith), an NYPD officer, caught Kay’s eye when he unknowingly ran down a cephalapoid while trying to make an arrest. Impressed with Edwards’ stamina and smarts, Kay lures him to the (hilarious) testing where Edwards proves he has what it takes as he thinks outside the box and make correct split second decisions. When he accepts, Edwards becomes J, the newest agent of the MIB.
And just in time as something has the alien population running scared and fleeing the planet. Turning to a major source of their intel, the tabloids, Kay and J interview a woman (Siobhan Fallon) who claims an alien stoled her husband Edgar’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) skin. Kay quickly realizes that a Bug has landed and is running loose in NYC. Heading to the morgue, they discover the M.E. Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino) has two alien bodies there but the mystery of what the Bug in the Edgar suit wants only deepens. It takes a trip to interrogate Frank the pug to reveal what Kay and J have to find before the Bug does because if they can’t stop him, the Arquillians are going to kill us all.
I love MIB. MIB II not so much and I’m bracing myself for the third installment due out this Spring in the hope that it will rise to the level of this one. But the original movie is hard to top. From the opening credits of a dragonfly flitting through the Universe before ending up as splat on a windshield it’s a pretty much a wild, nonstop ride. There is a bit of boring exposition as Kay fills J in on the history of the MIB and knowledge of aliens on this planet but most of the rest of the running time isn’t wasted. Considering how much the plot was changed as it went along, the final result ends up fairly cohesive. It’s also a beautiful film to look at – the outside NYC scenes show off the beauty of the city while the inside sets are all 1960s space age curves.
The relationship of Kay and J carries the film. Smith and Jones have fabulous chemistry. They totally play off each other with Jones’ straight faced delivery complimenting Smith’s wisecracking facade. But J and Kay aren’t just Super Men with major firepower shown saving the world in a rain of special effects. They’re human. They get busted up, J cares about the effect of Kay’s memory messer-upper on the people who get flashed and he wants the cover stories which replace those peoples’ memories to be nice and – in the case of Edgar’s wife – empowering. Kay regrets the loss of his most recent partner and still loves the woman he had to leave behind all those years ago when he became an agent. You can see the weight of all his memories on his face. Yet, despite the need for them to toil in obscurity, there are the occasional nice moments such as when J helps deliver a bouncing, newborn baby….squid.
Rip Torn as Zed conveys gravitas in the face of the imminent destruction of the planet yet can still slide in a few zingers about the years of government training of the other candidates and how the MIB aren’t hosting an intergalactic kegger. Linda Fiorentino is lovely to look at and her character catches onto the situation quickly. I was delighted when she manages to not only save herself but also provides the final blast needed to rid the world of the Bug. One of my favorite tertiary characters is Beatrice the beaten down wife of Edgar. Fallon manages to make me laugh out loud without saying a word just from the expressions on her face.
But it’s Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance as the Bug which rulz. I can’t imagine how much work he had to put into pulling off the look and mannerisms of having a giant cockroach stuffed into his skin. The loping gait, the awkward way he poses his arms as he sits in the Zap-Em truck, the smash and grab techniques at the jewelry store and sidewalk post-card seller’s stand – even the way he talks…he makes me believe he’s something otherworldly. It’s also hilarious to watch how frustrated and pissed the Bug gets the longer he’s stuck in New York. Even Edgar’s cows don’t give him any respect.
The special effects still hold up fairly well with lots of exploding blue goo and Bug slime everywhere. I still think “the little guy in the big guy’s head” looks a little cheesy but the final sequences with the Bug are good. The “ingrate” worms who loaf around all day at the MIB headquarters are funny and the pug in a “I ♥ NY” T-shirt is cute. One of my favorite funny scenes is the way J discovers exactly what happens when he pushes the red button in the Ford P.O.S. as he and Kay are headed to Queens through the tunnel to the music of Elvis Presley.
The movie is supposed to be fun and breezy light entertainment and succeeds as such. Director Sonnenfeld keeps the story focused and the pace fast as it zips to a conclusion. The commentary tract is also interesting to listen to as he and Jones discuss what went into making the movie and seemingly have a good time remembering the whole process. Are we just an intergalactic Aggie in an alien game of marbles? Who knows? But no one better give me a flashie thing as I’d probably forget to put on my Ray Bans and would end up zapping myself to mental oblivion.