Men in Black II
Rated PG-13, 82 min. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Starring Patrick Warburton, Tony Shalhoub, Rosario Dawson, Johnny Knoxville, Lara Flynn Boyle, Rip Torn, Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith.
It's tempting to view this sequel to the 1997 sci-fi comedy -- which then as now featured Messrs. Smith and Jones as a pair of earthling cops keeping the planet's native populace safe from a ceaseless stream of alien riff-raff and the occasional talking pug-dog -- through the fractured and decisively paranoid lens of our current hot-button dealings with foreign undesirables. John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge's America, sadly, is nowhere near as entertaining (nor as nattily attired, nor as effective in its counter-measures against alien baddies) as Sonnenfeld's, and I suspect that the citizenry as a whole is as eager as I am for a stroke of memory-erasing comic genius and less receptive to a dive into mire of interplanetary race relations. Still, the comparison is valid one: Smith, as Agent Jay, is more or less on his own as MIB II begins, having lost mentor Agent Kay (Jones) to a “neural eraser”-enhanced retirement at the conclusion of the first film. So woefully inept have been his replacements in the interim that he's taken to routinely wiping their memories and sending them packing. Now he's stuck with Frank, the aforementioned talking pug. When MIB Chief Zed (Torn, who along with Jones is -- again -- the best thing about the films) orders Jay to re-recruit Kay in order to head off (what else?) total planetary destruction -- this time via a shapely alien babe played by former Twin Peakster Lara Flynn Boyle -- the stakes are raised since Kay is now a postal employee in a remote New England hamlet. The scenes of a summer-shorts-clad Jones gruffly working the mail and then discovering that his co-workers are aliens (Jay helpfully points out that “most postal employees are aliens,” pointedly confirming national suspicions dating back at least as far as the Eisenhower administration) are far more entertaining than by rights they ought to be. Jones has morphed into an accomplished master of the taciturn burn, and here his cracked Texan mug is both perpetually threatening and glibly silly. Smith, who was already a born comic when DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince released “Nightmare on My Street,” is again a fount of yuks, but let's face it, the only real reason to see MIB II is for Oscar-winning make-up effects artist Rick Baker's fantastic and relentlessly inspired menagerie of aliens that give the film more zing than its bare-bones plot could ever hope to achieve. Chicken people, tentacled horrors, lethal trash cans, a wormy stumblebum with a tentacle-headed double in his backpack (played by Jackass' Knoxville), and Tony Shalhoub's non-decapitatable pawnshop owner are but a few of the choice critters on display (and Baker himself is briefly glimpsed -- lengthy two-tone locks and all -- during an inspired customs-check scene). It's King of Pap Michael Jackson, though, who steals the show with a throwaway cameo gag. You just knew the guy was involved with aliens somehow, didn't you? Us, too. At a quick 82 minutes, MIB II is blockbuster-lite; it moves roughly as fast as Kay drives the duo's souped-up Benzo, and stops not at all. Even Smith's barely-there love interest with Rosario Dawson is, well, barely there. Still and all, it's a welcome and nicely goofy bit of sci-fi froth with the occasional hint of genuine comic smarts. (Still no Triffids though. Damn.)
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