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Men in Black III (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2012)

Men in Black III opens with a sight gag that compares a towering, gelatinous cake to a womanís equally robust cleavage and follows up a few minutes later with a gross-out involving an alien with a distinctly vaginal mouth in his one remaining palm. These lewd flourishes are not typical of the disappointingly routine romp that follows. While marginally better than either of its two predecessors, this latecoming sequel still seems to lack much in the way of ambition, coherence or wit. With a massive budget and a sci-fi premise that enables limitless imagination, Men in Black III settles for the familiar and the lowbrow time and again.


The plotline in this lazy sequel involves an escaped alien (Jermaine Clement) who travels back in time to the 1960s, hoping to assassinate the agent (Tommy Lee Jones) who originally imprisoned him. This choice results in stunt casting, character ages that donít quite seem to make sense, and no small number of dangling plot threads by the filmís end. What the temporal shift doesnít really do is inspire much visual imagination or use of period detail. Too frantic to really come off as a character piece, but too earthbound to function effectively as spectacle, this film feels bereft of either inspiration or humanity. Not even a melodramatic last minute twist or a reminder of race relations from half a century ago can inspire us to feel much for this parade of cheap humor and intentionally gaudy special effects.


Since Men in Black III features three extraterrestrial agents, Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and now Josh Brolin are all playing straight men to the myriad aliens that they encounter. The aliens, which often have grotesque or racially stereotypical facial features, are left to provide much of the comedy, which makes this something of a one-joke premise. Being the third film in a series, one would expect some level of attachment to the cast, but there really is none to be found. An early gag involves a eulogy in which one character reveals that he knows next to nothing about a coworker whom he has spent decades alongside. This is rather indicative of the series itself, which shuttles events and faces before us without much opportunity for any of them to make much of an impact.


At 103 minutes, Men in Black III is snappier than most contemporary blockbusters, but also more forgettable. While it never particularly grates, it lacks any particular reason for being. Josh Brolinís canny impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones might be the most impressive thing on display here, but even that never develops into something more than it offers at face value.



Jeremy Heilman