Men in Black Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

They're here, aren't they?
Mr. Mulder, they have been here for a very, very long time.
- The X-Files

"Men in Black", based on the obscure Malibu comic book, is built on the same premise as "The X-Files", only to comedic effect. Originally scheduled for release in 1995, but scuttled due to scheduling problems of the principals (director Barry Sonnenfeld, executive producer Steven Spielberg, and lead Tommy Lee Jones), MIB is a light-hearted popcorn romp through the shrouded world of a covert government agency mandated to monitor and police the alien presence here on Earth, similar in tone and attitude to Sonnenfeld's previous directorial efforts, "Get Shorty" and the two "Addams Family" movies.

Are you going to make fun of me too?
No, ma'am. We at the FBI have no sense of humor that we know of.

However, unlike alien invasion flicks of summers past, where the malevolent bulb-headed beings are out to conquer our planet for its rich array of resources, the aliens in MIB are refugees, stuck on "the Rock" (their affectionate term for our planet) because they have nowhere else to go ("It's kind of like Casablanca, only without Nazis"). Armed with alien technology, dressed in nondescript suits, and sporting wrap-around Raybans, the men and women of the MIB ensure that the blissful ignorance of the general population to the aliens among us is maintained. Mr. K (Tommy Lee Jones) is one of these Men in Black. Their base of operations is in New York city, a 1960s-retro command center/airport where aliens are processed and monitored upon their arrival. Unlike the Men in Black of UFO lore, which have been known to harass and threaten alleged UFO witnesses, it is the kindler, gentler Men in Black that we see in this movie, who merely use a 'neuralizer', a pen-like device, that erases the memory of anyone that gazes into its flash.

That's NYPD-- 'nock yo' punk-ass down!

Enter an NYPD officer (Will Smith), while on a takedown, encounters a suspect who exhibits superhuman abilities and bizarre anatomy. After returning to the precinct and being laughed at by his fellow officers, he is questioned by Mr. K. Impressed by his abilities, Mr. K recommends to his superior (Rip Torn) that the police officer is inducted into the ranks of the MIB. And so Mr. J is born.

The difference between you and me is that I make this look good!

The plot is practically non-existent, with some rubbish about a member of an alien royal family being killed by a member of another alien race called 'Bugs' (a grotesquely mishapen Vincent D'Onofrio) in order to secure an artifact, which, if not recovered by Agents J and K, will result in the vaporization of the Earth. What makes MIB radiate is the off-the-wall humor that suffuses an otherwise comic book plot. Mr. J is the classic 'fish out of water', and his bewilderment by his sudden immersion into this alternate reality is distinguished from the dispassionate matter-of-fact disposition of his partner Mr. K, who's been there and done that. On top of this mirth-making pairing of extremes, visual gags and one-liners litter the ninety-eight minutes of screen time, ensuring that you won't be bored. There are many hilarious moments found in MIB, including Mr. K interrogating an alien disguised as a dog on a busy street corner and Mr. J writing an 'entrance exam' to qualify for MIB service, and Mr. J helping an alien give birth. Finally, thrown in some eye-popping special effects, and you have a movie that manages to overcome its nonsensical plot. However, one character that gets lost in the shuffle of all the yuks and the action is Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino), a medical examiner for the NYPD, who has been finding strange bodies turning up in her morgue. She ends up being relegated to comic relief, having her memory erased in a timely manner by Mr. K on multiple occasions.

MIB is a hip tongue-in-cheek sci-fi comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously. Though the plot looks (and is) ludicrous on paper, the charming execution makes up for it. And being rated PG, it is probably one of the few blockbusters that a) is worthwhile spending the money on and b) that the whole family can see.

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