Men in Black is the fun summer spoof that needs no apologies.
By Mary Dickson
July 14, 1997: Forget Batman and Robin. The summer's real dynamic duo is Tommie Lee Jones and Will Smith. Their pairing in Barry Sonnenfeld's hilarious spoof of alien films, Men In Black, is inspired.
Tommie Lee Jones, he who never smiles, is perfectly cast as the deadpan agent K, charged with keeping track of the aliens amongst us. Jones is such a solid actor that he shines regardless of the role. Even in a farce he's on top. No one does dry better than he does.
Will Smith is a perfect foil as the authority-defying young cop Jones recruits to be his sidekick, J. A comic natural, the quick-witted Smith has all the right moves and an impeccable sense of timing.
Sonnenfeld brings just the right light touch to his high-end spoof, which is thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. It may be based on a Marvel comic, but it's just what you want from a summer movie nothing serious, yet so well-made and well-acted you won't have to apologize for loving it.
Sonnenfeld, working with a sharp screenplay by Ed Solomon, takes the fascination with aliens and plays it for smart laughs. Jones' cool G-man character is part of a highly-funded yet unofficial secret bureau established in the mid-'50s to act as an immigration service and policing agency for aliens on earth. The earth has become the host planet to some 1,500 mostly mild-mannered intergalactic refugees. Creatures without a planet, they're just illegal aliens trying to make an honest living as cab drivers, pawn brokers and jewelers.
Of course, the government wants to keep these non-humans under wraps since earthlings are basically "dumb, panicky animals." The special agency of men in government-issue black suits, ties and sunglasses doesn't report to any branch of the government anymore, however. It's on its own with abundant funding not from taxpayers, mind you, but from the royalties of confiscated extraterrestrial gismos, like velcro, microwave and liposuction. The Men In Black also have unlimited access to technology from the whole universe, which gives them some out-of-this-world weapons and surveillance equipment.
When Jones invites Smith to be part of this secret force, he warns him that it means he'll have to sever all human contact and that no one will ever know he exists. People will recognize him only as deja vu. But, the young cop's excitement quotient is high, so he signs on.
Rip Torn has a good turn as Zed, the head of the agency. Vince D'Onofrio plays the evil alien a giant cockroach who wears the skin of a farmer he kills. It's an ill-fitting suit that makes D'Onofrio look, walk and talk like a demented Frankenstein. This incredibly repulsive hulk who lives off the destruction of other creatures goes foraging in Manhattan, knocking off a few good aliens along the way and paving the road for intergalactic war.
It's a given that the effects and gadgets in Men In Black will be amazing. Fortunately, however, they don't drive this film as they do so often in most effects extravaganzas. The story and its characters are firmly in the driver's seat here, no matter how incredible the effects. The earth-bound humans are what makes this film work.
The aliens, crafted by Industrial Light & Magic, are the best collection of creatures since the original Star Wars. They're fabulous inventions from the spindly little creatures you've seen pouring coffee and smoking cigarettes in the trailer to the multi-armed computer operators, the giant cockroach and the little bald men with big heads who live inside the heads of humans.
To live undetected by the easily startled masses, the aliens assume human form, but pop out often enough to give audiences a thrill. Tony Shahoub plays earth host to Jeebs, a pawn broker/alien arms dealer. The film's best gadget is the car that can sprout wing-tips and fly on the ceiling of the Holland Tunnel. The effects are very impressive, but never overdone.
The clever script includes several well-placed jabs at not only the obsession with alien visitations, but at popular culture as well. Agents K and J pick up the supermarket tabloids for leads on where illegal aliens may be hiding. A headline on "Aliens are wearing my husband's skin," is enough to lead them to the farmer's freaked-out wife.
When a register of aliens living as humans is flashed on the screen at headquarters, Sylvester Stallone, Danny DeVito, Al Roker, Dionne Warwick and others are among them. Elvis, it turns out, isn't dead at all, merely on a vacation to his planet. The best jab comes when one MIB casually mentions that Dennis Rodman is really from another planet. "It's not much of a disguise," quips his colleague.
For pure entertainment, catch the Men In Black. And, oh yes, the radar is already picking up signals pointing to a sequel. Look for Linda Fiorentino and Will Smith coming sooner than you think to a galaxy near you.
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