Thursday, June 7, 2012
“Men in Black 3” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) may be Tommy Lee Jones’ last “Men in Black” movie. The Oscar winning “Fugitive” actor makes what amounts to a glorified cameo in the second sequel. He shows up for about a quarter of an hour during the first act of this amusing, but tonally uneven farce and then disappears until about the last ten minutes of act three. Presumably, Jones wasn’t agile enough to impersonate himself as a younger man in act two of this lively sequel. Consequently, “Men in Black” director Barry Sonnenfeld cast Josh Brolin as a younger Agent K for the contrived time travel plot in “Tropic Thunder” scenarist Etan Cohen’s inventive but convoluted screenplay. Things seem considerably more realistic in “Men in Black 3” as a vindicative villain takes advantage of time travel to trip back to July 1969 and knock off Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) mere moments before the historic Apollo Moon launch. Meaning, since Agent K would no longer exist, Agent K couldn’t have recruited Agent J. Remember, in “Men in Black” (1997), Agent K recruited NYPD detective James Darrell Edwards III (Will Smith of “Independence Day”) for his fleet-footed pursuit of an alien. “Men in Black 3” takes some outrageous liberties with time travel that haven’t been handled in such a zany fashion.
Basically, “Men in Black 3” resembles the classic fantasy film “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946) where James Stewart learns about the chaos that will ensue if he commits suicide. Unlike the James Stewart hero, Agent K either must survive a murder attempt on his life or chaos will engulf the Earth. A buffed-up Mick Jigger look-alike bad man named Boris the Animal has dreamed about killing Agent K. Bad-tempered Boris is an alien who has goggles instead of eyeballs, gnarly-looking teeth, a Darth Vader baritone voice, and multi-toed feet, and harbors a deadly crab-like critter in the palm of his hand. Boris likes to discharge deadly thorns from his hand, and his trademark line of dialogue is "Let's agree to disagree." Unless Agent J can run interference for Agent K, the world as we know it is doomed. It seems that Agent K was instrumental in averting an alien invasion of Earth with a small gizmo that gives off an emerald glow back in 1969. He had to plant the device atop the Apollo Moon rocket so it could be boosted into space. Of course, Boris both before and after the Lunar Max escape turns up to complicate Agent K’s renewed efforts to save the planet. They battle like titans atop the gantry.
“Men in Black” opens in Lunar Max, a maximum security prison on the Moon, built to confine the worst scum in the galaxy. Beastly Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement of “Dinner for Schmucks”) thwarts an army of heavily armed guards with the help of a woman carrying a pink cake, and breaks out of the slammer. Just when the guards think they have Boris cornered, this larger-than-life villain surprises them with a stunt that disperses the guards and staggers the imagination. Now, freed after 40 years of captivity, Boris decides to pay back the man who not only put him behind bars but also blew off part of his left arm. Of course, Boris’ quarry is none other than resourceful Agent K. Agent K's only regret is that he didn't ice Boris when he had the opportunity. Mysteriously, Agent K has vanished without a trace, and Agent J gets the shock of his life at MIB Headquarters when he learns that Agent K has been dead for 40 years.
The original “Men in Black” offered a pleasant change-of-pace for science fiction film fans. Essentially, this silly, “Far Side” type satire cleverly combined the police procedural TV show “Dragnet” with the “Star Wars” cantina scene. Sonnenfeld has helmed all three “Men in Black” movies. Along the way, he has made some changes. Not only does Sonnenfeld eliminate Zed, but he also has replaced Zed with a younger woman. Essentially, Zed (Rip Torn) has died, and Agent K delivers a cryptic but dispassionate eulogy. Agent O (Emma Thompson) replaces Zed. Later, we learn that Agent K and Agent O were romantically involved. Unfortunately, the filmmakers fail to make the threat of a standard-issue, alien invasion of Earth plot seem exciting. Sonnenfeld and Cohen do everything to raise the stakes in this outlandish sequel. Although some changes are obvious and accounted for, others are not so clear-cut, especially the liberties that they take with time travel.
The biggest change involves the scope of “MIB 3.” Although the adversary is an alien, little about him prompts laughs. The decision to go into the past makes "Men in Black 3" different from the previous two films. Sonnenfeld and Cohen allow Boris to take things right down to the wire. “Men in Black 3” is the tail chasing the dog, but it is so energetic that you can ignore its lapses in logic. Brolin and Smith are charismatic enough even when the plot stumbles from one big set-piece to another. Some critics have skewered the logic of the time travel plot. How can two characters and their counterparts inhabit the same time and setting without negating their alter-egos? For that matter, how is it that Agent J can remain a member of the Men in Black if Agent K weren’t around to recruit him? After Sonnenfeld and Cohen resolve the end-of-the-world plot, they cap off “Men in Black 3” with a hopelessly contrived ending that brings the franchise full circle. The closure that comes with the return of Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K has an eerie sense of finality. Josh Brolin delivers a brilliant performance as Agent K, and the ambitious plot resembles a sci-fi, James Bond escapade rather than a goofy actioneer. Happily, “Men in Black 3” boasts some ingenious gadgets, like a motorcycle that consists of one giant wheel that the rider sits inside while driving and jet-packs that resemble chrome-plated Gemini capsules. Comparatively, “Men in Black 3” surpasses “Men in Black 2,” but lacks the spontaneity of “Men in Black.”