Men in Black is over way too fast.
The movie is light and airy fun. It never drags and it’s always entertaining, so after a mere 96 minutes we’re sorry to have to leave the theater.
In case you haven’t heard, K (Tommy Lee Jones) works for a secret government agency, Men in Black (MiB, sort of like the interstellar version of the INS). K recruits young J (Will Smith) to help him track and control alien life forms living on planet Earth.
Soon after J joins up, MiB learns of a threat from a race of aliens who threaten to blow up Earth if a certain galaxy is not returned (don’t ask). Or something like that. As Newsweek says, the plot doesn’t really matter in this movie. What does matter are outstanding comedy performances, wonderfully cartoonish sets, and a smart, witty script.
Tommy Lee Jones is the perfect straight man. His K has been favorably compared to Jack Webb’s humorless lawman Joe Friday. Everything in the movie is absurd, but K takes it all in stride. And Will Smith plays off of Jones with an overeager confidence that tests the limits of Jones’ deadpan.
Production designer Bo Welch has done some excellent work for Tim Burton in the past. He designed Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and Batman Returns. That same bold cartoonish look is put to wonderful use in Men in Black. The MiB testing room is designed for the 60’s futuristic look and not the functionality. The main foyer of the MiB offices is a giant empty granite cube, its solitary features an industrial-sized blower and return vent (the lone guard has dragged in a cheap office chair so he can sit and work his crossword). Once inside, the offices of MiB headquarters look like the exterior of Boulder’s own mushroom house seen in Woody Allen’s Sleeper.
The script keeps the jokes coming at a nice brisk pace. In fact, you may have to see the movie twice to catch all the jokes in the background and the jokes you missed because the audience was laughing. Continuing the tradition, I will NOT reveal any jokes in this review; suffice it to say that you should pay close attention lest you miss something funny.
Some of the fun in MiB comes from identifying its little winks at other science fiction movies. I found references to Dr. Strangelove, War of the Worlds, Ghostbusters, Star Trek: Generations, and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, to name a few. That’s one more thing to keep your eyes open for.
Though you will be rewarded if you watch closely, the movie does not require much effort. It is a light and refreshing diversion, a perfect way to spend a few hours of your summer.
They’ll be gone before you know it.