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Men in Black II (Barry Sonnenfeld) 2002


    I wasnít a huge fan of the first Men in Black film, so it was with some apprehension that I approached the sequel. I certainly wouldnít have paid to see it, and it only was a freak chain of events that got me into the theater. Something about the first filmís comic setup seemed to be wholly bogus to me. Every time an alien looked unassuming, it was patently obvious that it was going to turn out to be scary. Every punch line seemed to be delivered in hopes that it would become a catch phrase. The interplay between the two lead characters relied on rookie/pro cop dynamics that have been recycled into ineffectiveness. Still, there were some small pleasures to be had in the performances (especially Linda Fiorentinoís, which is sorely missed in the sequel). Men in Black II, which is as bad a film as Iíve seen all year, canít even offer that. The reason that a movie like Men in Black II can open to a $90 million holiday weekend is because its premise suggests to the public an unlimited potential for adventure and imagination. Itís got to be disappointing to the masses, then, that instead of grasping that potential and trying something new, the filmmakers have crafted a movie that almost always feels like a regurgitation of the original film.


    Basically, the plot here uses some mind wiping, courtesy of a device called a neuralizer, to reverse the polarity that fueled the first, with Will Smith starting as the experienced pro who shows Tommy Lee Jonesí neophyte agent the ropes. Only audiences that have been neuralized themselves since the first film will find any of this fresh, but I canít imagine that even they will find it funny. The problem is that Tommy Lee Jones here plays a character that seems utterly perturbed by the whole predicament that heís thrust into. I suppose heís supposed to exhibit some kind of curmudgeonly charm, but mostly he seemed to be vaguely pissed off. He drains the wonder from the movie. In the original, Will Smithís character was flippant about but awed by the creatures that he saw, and even though the special effects have improved since 1997, I imagine his reactions to the first filmís effects would make them feel more impressive in comparison. After Jonesí memory is inevitably restored, the movie simply reverses dynamics once again, and reverts to an explicit copy of the first film. Suddenly, Smithís character seems to be back to his rookie status, even though heís been an agent for five years. Itís not terribly rewarding.


    The abundance of product placement is the one aspect of the Men in Black II that is unequivocally bigger than its predecessor. I think the first film slid by mostly on a tie-in with some sunglasses manufacturer. The sequel courts Madison Avenue with a seeming sense of desperation. Besides the celebrity cameos, there are plugs for Sprint, Burger King, Victoriaís Secret, Mercedes, Twister, iMac, eBay, Sony televisions, and Playstation. Some of these are integrated well, but the majority of them seem embarrassing, even in this supposedly comic context. Thereís nothing clever about watching Lara Flynn Boyle eating a Whopper (why not have her anorexic alien vomit it up like she did to a human earlier?), and itís amazing that the filmmakers thought the overbearing presence of all of this branding wouldnít detract from the filmís fantasy setting.



Jeremy Heilman