Wednesday, July 9, 1997

Men In Black

Posted By on Wed, Jul 9, 1997 at 12:00 AM

It's a sick, sick cinema we encourage with our ducats that really disappoints only when a film fails to include a really choice trailer clip in the final cut. Thankfully this summer's big celluloid jam delivers all the Ray Ban-wearin' good-time moments that three months of commercials, music videos and hype have promised. Unfortunately, Men in Black delivers little else.

The much-ballyhooed comedic pairing of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith is undermined by the fact that neither man showed up to work. If you've been paying attention to MIB's advertainment, you know that Smith and Jones play secret operatives who act as an immigration service for the extraterrestrials living among us for the last 30 years. For matters of cinematic convenience and the further perpetuation of New York City as "Place Most Wacky," most of the aliens on our Third Rock reside in the Big Apple. The film flies off the rails when intergalactic forces threaten to destroy the Earth if the MIB fail to rescue a kidnapped galaxy (!) from the clutches of an evil, giant, alien bug which has possessed a loutish upstate New York hick (Vincent D'Onofrio).

From that most unoriginal starting point, MIB only gets less memorable. Director and empty-calorie maestro Barry Sonnenfeld -- who had moderate success making light, kitschy work of The Addams Family -- has neutered a potential stud bull of an idea. Instead of playing on our sense of premillennium wonder and angst, Sonnenfeld has grafted bits of Gremlins, Mars Attacks! and Independence Day onto a Ghostbusters body. The plot then toddles along on tired devices till the credits roll and Will Smith busts a fresh product-placement rap.

Most of the too few punch lines are of the lackluster "I appreciate the fact that that's a joke" variety. Worse yet, the special effects that should mitigate an otherwise dull experience are given short shrift here.

But any laundry list of good ideas gone awry in this film cannot begin to express the utterly rudderless, underwhelming whole. Men in Black is a case study in hype over substance and personality over performance. But if you laughed out loud at the trailers, you may just be able to tolerate this film.

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