Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Few Amusing Moments, But Largely Men In Black II Tries Too Hard!

The Good: A few amusing moments, Generally decent special effects, Moments of character
The Bad: Repeats a lot from the original, Clunky supporting performances.
The Basics: A disappointing sequel, Men In Black II tries to hit too many of the same notes as the original and falls flat.

Recently, I had the opportunity to return to my film reviewer’s roots by reviewing Men In Black (reviewed here!), a film I first saw for one of my first film review assignments. After more than a decade, I saw Men In Black and I was afforded the opportunity to consider that I may have been too harsh on it back in my college days. I have a feeling, however, now that I have seen Men In Black II, it will be quite a bit longer (if ever) before I come to believe I am being too harsh on my review of it. Men In Black II includes many aspects of a sequel which people generally use to cut down sequels in general. The work is derivative, unsurprising and tries unsuccessfully to recapture the greatness of the original. In the case of Men In Black II, the film does so with a few moments of character growth or decent acting, but far too often ends up recreating the reversals that made the original film as interesting as it was.

Men In Black II, like the first film, is based upon a graphic novel series and it is worth noting that I have not read any of the graphic novels in this series. As a result, this is a rather pure review of Men In Black II, a science fiction comedy film which underwhelms in the final analysis.

Five years after Agent Jay began working for the Men In Black, he has found it difficult to work for any extended time with a single partner. After wiping the memory of his latest partner, T, following an incident with an alien in the subway system, Jay begins pining for human contact. In this case, it takes the form of Laura, a waitress who believes in both extraterrestrials and the Men In Black. She witnesses her boss being killed and Jay decides not to wipe her memory clean. This comes as Earth is invaded by Serleena, an alien searching for The Light, a mystical item which she believes is hidden on Earth, despite claims that it was shipped off-world to preserve Earth’s neutrality in intergalactic affairs. The claim comes from Zed and the records kept by Kay. Needing to know the veracity of those claims, Jay goes in search of the former M.I.B. operative.

After an extended trip with Frank the dog, Jay finds Kevin Brown working at the Post Office and he convinces him to join him to get de-neuralized and recover the memories Jay took from him. When Serleena attacks the Men In Black headquarters, Jay and Kay are forced to rely on a black market (Jeebs!) memory restoration device that does not restore all of Kay’s memories immediately. With the clock ticking, Jay and Kay try to hunt for the truth about the Light and save the Earth and life across the galaxy.

Men In Black II has moments of humor, but even some of that is repeated from the first film. Jay’s commentary on ethnicity continues, but in nowhere near as flippant a way as it was presented in the first film. As well, it helps viewers to have seen the first film, to truly appreciate the character struggle of Kevin Brown and Kay. Attentive viewers will note only a single line explains Laurel’s (Linda Fiorentino’s) lack of appearance, but with Rosario Dawson filling essentially the same niche, Men In Black II actually works better than the original on the “romantic subplot” front.

Sadly, too much of the film seems like it is trying too hard. The initial encounter with Jay and T in the subway feels largely like it is trying to make a big entrance to rival the scope of the final conflict from the first film. Similarly, the physical comedy with Jay being tossed around in scenes is viewed with a “ho-hum” response because we have seen it before. The insult to injury comes, though, in the form of Frank the dog. Frank had a brief role in Men In Black and he accompanies Jay as a wisecracking sidekick that guts the first half of the movie. Frank was amusing for moments in the first film, but his extended stay on screen results in this film in a long stretch of truly humorless jokes and special effects sequences that are anything but special.

Once Tommy Lee Jones returns to the film, Men In Black II picks back up, but even then, the viewer is accosted by appearances from Johnny Knoxville, whose only other cinematic work I have seen in Jackass Number Two (reviewed here!). Knoxville tries for physical comedy as a two-headed alien living on Earth and helping Serleena, but his performances are just uncomfortably manic. While his brand of physical comedy might make him seem ideal for a graphic-novel-made-film, he just does not fit in with the caliber of the rest of the cast. That cast is led by Tommy Lee Jones and he does a predictably excellent job of reprising the role of Kay.

In fact, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones do a decent job of re-establishing the chemistry they had on-screen, with Jones doing more than just acting as Smith’s straightman on this outing. In fact, fans of Tommy Lee Jones might actually enjoy the way he is able to crack wise on his own in this film and he captivates the viewer’s attention. Still, the film works best when he and Smith are playing off one another and they do have successful chemistry for that.

On DVD, Men In Black II features a commentary track which is marginally interesting. Many of the technical details of making the film are similar to what was revealed in the first film’s commentary track. Similarly, the second disc features the usual featurettes on special effects, with multi-angle scene deconstruction. There is a music video for the far less memorable theme song to this movie as well as an alternate ending and blooper reel. None of this makes the actual film better.

In short, despite the announced Men In Black III, Men In Black II may safely be skipped.

For other works which blend science fiction and comedy, please check out my reviews of:
“A Piece Of The Action”
“The Outrageous Okona”


For other film reviews, visit my index page, which is updated daily!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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