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Black is not the new Black

01/08/2002. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Men in Black II in the USA - or Buy Men in Black II in the UK

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The "Men in Black II" are back to save us from the out-of-this-world vermin. But who the heck is out to save us from the utter piffle of this sequel's 'alien'-ating existence? Frank tells you exactly why you shouldn't be seeing this rubbish, here.

Film review by Frank Ochieng

Men In Black II
Date Released: 07/03/2002
Rated: PG-13 (for sci-fi action and some suggestive humour)
Length: 94 minutes
Produced by: Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle, Johnny Knoxville, Michael Jackson
Distributor: Columbia Tristar

The temptation is always there in the world of movie sequelitis. The formula is quite evident: wait a few years after the tremendous box office showing of the original flick then milk the profits for what its worth in the next installment.

Film Men in Black 2

You then try to secure the services of the film's previous stars (the recently Oscar-nominated Will Smith from "Ali" and Oscar-winning stoical actor Tommy Lee Jones) along with its noted director Barry Sonnenfeld provided that they're not too big or proud or expensive to partake in the sequel festivities.

Then count on the moviegoers to help duplicate the cinematic financial efforts that your prior blockbuster project had benefited from earlier. In the world of moviemaking, it's as easy as 1-2-3!

In the much-anticipated follow-up of Smith and Jones's rayban sunglass-wearing agents out to control the cretins that threaten our way of life, "Men In Black II" is back for more 4th of July holiday sci-fi high jinks at the box office. Giddy Agent J (Smith) and his stone-faced partner Agent K (Jones) are poised to do battle with the ever-so-evil and bothersome extraterrestrials in what amounts to be a rehashed collection of stale jokes and aimlessly highfalutin' special effects.

Clearly this film doesn't have the spontaneous luster or madcap silliness of its goofy predecessor that made it such a hoot when it caught movie audiences off guard back in 1997. Somehow, off-kilter references to alien invasions doesn't seem as funny or enticing as it did five years ago.

"Men In Black II" is content with resting its laurels on the familiar loose banter of its intended mismatched costars, a beloved wiseacre talking pug dog sidekick named Frank (hmmm...I kinda like that name) and a host of creepy wormlike critters--all designed to invoke the nostalgic nuttiness of yesteryear's box office hit.

The movie's cute tagline is: "same planet, new scum". It's too bad that Barry Fanaro and Robert Gordon's ("Galaxy Quest") script couldn't conjure up new ideas and forge progressive insights to go along with the film's new-kid-on-the-block variety of scum.

Anyway, the plotline is simplistic in nature. The film introduces an intergalactic villainous vixen named Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle from ABC-TV's "The Practice") who happens to control the feisty buggers that J and K and their agency must combat vigorously. In the meanwhile, J has no choice but to work with different partners because K has some form of amnesia (I thought this was only reserved for sitcom plot contrivances?) that's preventing him to be the effective alien-fighting agent he once was.

But J needs K to snap out of this mental funk because K could be the instrumental figurehead in finding out the whereabouts of a gadget known as the McGuffin (or something to that effect).

Both J and K need to seize that weapon before Serleena and her slimy odd squad get their paws on it. Should K's memory lapse continue and Serleena succeed in securing this destructive device, the planet Earth will be in a whole mess of trouble.

Can the Men in Black do their thing and save our bacon once more amid the tacky turmoil? Look, does a laser gun from the Starship Enterprise sting when it hits you in the gut?

What made the original MIB movie so unique was its hokey charm because it was conceived as a one-note irreverent vehicle with the spunky yet erratic special effects to go along with the dopey-looking bug-eyed species that gave this movie its unexpected appeal.

The original film wasn't necessary a winner to begin with because the unevenness of the satire fell flat more often than not. But the devilish wink-wink attitude of the film's stars, particularly Will Smith's incessant smugness, made MIB a palatable guilty pleasure.

However, here "MIBII" struggles with its slapstick mode that comes across as annoyingly outdated and indifferent. Sonnenfeld directs this cockeyed and sporadically witty space-aged sci-fi yarn with the urgency of having a bee buzzing around in his britches. The quips by Smith and Jones's characters feel forced and schmaltzy.

There's simply a sense of shiftless direction to this excitable showcase that just doesn't quite make it suitable the second time around.

Smith and Jones revisit their dark-suited personas with a dose of convincing enthusiasm but their hilarious brashness from a handful of years ago only magnifies itself as sheer empty-headed arrogance in this updated version that needlessly labors at being hip and flippant. Flynn Boyle is not too memorable as the witchy and wily goddess of goons Serleena.

She's weak-kneed and too breezy in the unctuous department. Johnny Knoxville (the jackass dude from MTV's "Jackass" series) signs on as a two-headed alien and is merely uneventful in the process. And the adorable Rosario Dawson (from "Josie and the Pussycats") is wasted as the hinted love interest of Smith's Agent J.

Her character development can be likened to that of an umbrella stand in the corner of the room. If there's any semblance of the magic that emigrated from the first film, then it's in the form of Tony Shaloub ("Big Night") returning as the put-upon alien with the blast-off, blast-on head not to mention the caustic wiggly worm bandits out for some chaotic fun.

When all is said and done, trusty Will Smith fans will probably head to the aisle seats and watch Mr. July pack 'em in as he only knows how to do around this time of the hotbed movie season.

Smith does have a proven track record and if you're willing to gamble with his impressive summertime clout as Sonnenfeld has done in the past (okay, we'll overlook the Sonnenfeld/Smith collaboration on the summer miscue "Wild, Wild West" from a few years ago), I'm sure the tedious antics of the pointless "Men In Black II" will be acceptable in your universe.

But as one who'll see this meager sequel for what it's really worth, I suggest you hope that J and K and all the other alphabetical elements blast themselves and join their gruesome adversaries in movie oblivion.

Frank rates this film: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2002

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