1997's "Men In Black" set the world on fire with its combination of big laughs and ever-bigger aliens. Now 5 years, and a million salary discussions later, comes "Men In Black 2" (IMDb listing). While I found the original to be appealing, and occasionally amusing, it was far from a home run for me. It lacked true laughs, and the speedy plot never really caught fire. So with most of the principals returning to the black suits, along with director Barry Sonnenfeld, is there any chance they've found a way to maximize the entertainment factor of this limitless story?
It's been years since Agent Jay (Will Smith) and Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) battled Edgar Bug for control of the universe. Now, with Agent Kay resigned to a simpler life with his memory cleared, trouble has risen again with the arrival of the villainous Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle). A shape-shifting monster traveling under the guise of a Victoria's Secret model, Serleena has come to Earth in search of the all powerful Light Of Zartha. Learning that a crucial piece of the puzzle of defeating Serleena lies in the blanked out brain of Agent Kay, Agent Jay brings his old partner back into the fold in hopes that the two can get rid of this new threat before catastrophe occurs.
Sadly, I think the money's gone to everyone's brain. "Men In Black 2" is as joyless and strained as a sequel can get. It forgoes everything that made the original so special to audiences, instead turning to reheated gags and a convoluted plot. Even worse, I didn't expect anything less than this mess. Director Barry Sonnenfeld has too much at stake here, coming off a turkey like 1999's "Wild Wild West." Sonnenfeld showed signs that he understood that his excesses are reprehensible with the quirky, misunderstood flop "Big Trouble." But when Sonnenfeld gets an unlimited budget and the ear of the whole world, you better run for cover. One of the key ingredients to "Men In Black" was the unearthing of the alien community. There was a beauty in the wonder the audience had as it was introduced to this underbelly of life through the eyes of Agent Jay. Now, with "MIB2," you can't go back home and expect us to be as floored. We've seen it already. But does this mean Sonnenfeld finds new ways to make us wide-eyed and giggly? Not really. As in his "Wild Wild West" fashion, he just piles on the special effects, and reaches a saturation level almost immediately. I adore the make-up effects by the legendary Rick Baker, but Sonnenfeld is more interested in flying, computer effects than in anything hand made.
As with the first movie, this new installment is incredibly fast. While this is meant to keep things light and airy in an effects-heavy picture, Sonnenfeld doesn't quite find the pulse of this new adventure, and the 82 minutes, which should be a godsend in terms of pacing, are handled poorly. The story is out of control, and the emotional beats of the characters are foolish. How are we supposed to care about Agent Jay's feelings for a witness (Rosario Dawson) when they only meet twice? The film's core is built around the disclosure that Agent Jay's loneliness can be cured by this woman, and it doesn't work. So when the moment comes to pay this relationship off, the result is depressingly botched. This is a short movie packed with a million ideas and visuals. This packaging worked for audiences the first time around but it doesn't work here.
I ask you, could Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones look any more bored? You'd think for the paychecks they're receiving, the duo could come up with something a little fresher than the same old shtick from "Men In Black." Sonnenfeld and the writers miss a golden opportunity by not having fun with the short time Jay's and Kay's roles are reversed in the opening of the film. Instead, as this lightning movie rarely stops for air, Jay and Kay just assume their old roles shortly after they're reunited, and the film dies instantly. And is there anything sadder than watching Will Smith trying to be funny? Sure, the actor can hit notes of grace unlike any in his league, but seeing him do physical comedy or "go off the page" as freely as Sonnenfeld allows him to do is dreadful to watch. I can count the laughs in "Men In Black 2" on one hand, and two of them don't even go to the principals. A "smooth criminal" takes those...
Thankfully, there is some creativity shown in the casting of Lara Flynn Boyle as Serleena. With her porcelain skin and gravel voice, she makes for a marvelous villain. If Sonnenfeld had managed to do a little more with Boyle or the character (the part seems whittled down from something much larger), then "Men In Black 2" might have found a greater level of success. As it stands, the best thing to happen to Jay and Kay is Serleena. If only this dreary sequel had filmmakers who understood that as well.
Filmfodder Grade: D