Men in Black II Review
It’s five years on from the original Men in Black, and Agent J (Will Smith) is still out there, saving Planet Earth from alien invasion. None of J’s partners, who include Frank the Talking Dog, are quite as good as J’s old mentor, K (Tommy Lee Jones), who is now “deneuralised” and working for the post office. In the meantime he falls for pizza waitress Laura (Rosario Dawson). However, alien Sereena (Lara Flynn Boyle), a carnivorous plant who for reasons best known to the scriptwriters manifests itself in the form of a curvaceous lingerie model in a black dress and push-up bra, is searching for the Light of Zartha (read: McGuffin) which will enable her to destroy the world. Or something. The only one who knows anything of the Light’s whereabouts is – you guessed it – Agent K…
Men in Black took close to $600 million back in 1997. Five years later, after much complex negotiation and expense, all the principals of the first film are back in place. For Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld, especially, this film is a run for cover, after the dire Wild Wild West (1999). On his own, Smith had the generally critically-liked but commercially unsuccessful Ali. Sonnenfeld’s Big Trouble was a victim of bad timing, pulled from release in the wake of 9/11. So a follow-up to one of their greatest hits is a safe option. I was never especially enthusiastic about the original film, and for about half its length this sequel seemed to be a case of lower expectations making for more entertainment value. What made the first film work was its freshness, which is inevitably absent here. It says something when the biggest laughs are provided not by the stars – as before, Jones is very much Smith’s straight man – but by a talking dog (with Tim Blaney’s voice) and a Michael Jackson cameo.
I often complain about bloated running times, so I should commend Sonnenfeld for bringing Men in Black II in at 81 minutes plus credits. Unfortunately, the storyline (writers Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro, story by Gordon) is too thin to sustain even that brief timespan. Jones doesn’t appear until twenty-five minutes in, and less than an hour later the credits are rolling. Too much time is spent labouring over K’s “reneuralisation”, after which the film doesn’t have anywhere really to go except downhill to an anticlimactic ending. By then steam, and inspiration, is a commodity long since exhausted.
Jones and Smith are engaging as always, and there are reprises from the first film from Rip Torn and Tony Shalboub. Lara Flynn Boyle, who replaced Famke Janssen, is a little too bland as the arch-villainess. Rick Baker’s alien creations are excellent, as you would expect, and there are some good throwaway gags. One of the best, involving what’s inside a locker at Grand Central Station, owes a little to Toy Story. All in all, Men in Black II is watchable but by no means outstanding addition to a franchise that’s clearly in the red zone.