They’re back. In black. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith return to battle the alien scum of the earth in an all new adventure, but the problem with “Men In Black II” is that there is nothing quite new about it.
Based on the comic book of the same name, the original “Men In Black” opened in 1997 on July 4th weekend to sold out crowds looking for a lighthearted Sci-Fi summer spectacle. It earned over $250 million domestically and became a certifiable summer blockbuster. The film followed Agents Jay (Smith) and Kay (Jones), members of a secret government agency that monitor extra terrestrial activity on Earth, as they engaged in an intergalactic showdown. Five years later with “Men In Black II,” the song remains the same.
If a movie were to be judged on its opening scene alone, “Men In Black II” would receive mass praise. The story begins with an “Unsolved Mysteries” -type retelling on an old “MIB” case. Hosted by Peter Graves (“Airplane”), the clip features the kind of bad acting, outlandish costumes and low budget special effects you would expect to see on late night TV. The editing and filming of the TV show are mockingly reminiscent of ’50s B-movies like “Creature From the Black Lagoon.” Unfortunately this is the high point of the film, and the rest of the movie tumbles into a downward spiral of rehashed jokes and gags.
This time around Jay has a new partner in Agent Tee (Patrick Warburton, “Seinfeld”). Jay finds it difficult working with new partners and yearns for the old tag team days of Jay and Kay. Meanwhile Kay, having been neuralized into retirement at the end of the first film, is enjoying his new civilian life as a postal worker. Trouble ensues with the arrival of Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle, “Twin Peaks”), a vile alien disguised as a Victoria’s Secret model. The twiggy seductress wears an ultra tight costume that enables the otherwise lanky actress to have some mighty fine alien cleavage. She seeks the Light of Zartha, a curious object on which the fate of the planet rests. Her somewhat comical cohort Scard/Charlie (Johnny Knoxville, “Big Trouble”) is a dimwitted, two-headed alien that seems to be a poor choice in companions if you’re planning on ruling the galaxy.
Returning alongside Smith and Jones are Rip Torn (“Larry Sanders Show”) as the MIB commander in chief, Tony Shalhoub (“The Man Who Wasn’t There”) as the pawn shop owner Jeebs and the ever lovable Frank the Pug. These familiar characters don’t seem to have the enthusiasm they did in the original, and seem more than anything to be fulfilling contractual obligations.
The biggest laughs in “Men In Black II” don’t come from “Fresh Prince” Will Smith or “Jackass” Johnny Knoxville, they come from David Cross. Smith and Knoxville are household names of the MTV generation, while Cross remains an entertainment enigma. The bald comedian best known for his work on the HBO sketch comedy series “Mr. Show” has little more than a cameo, but his presence is the most memorable one in the crowded “Men In Black II.”
Clocking in at a meager hour and a half, “Men In Black II” is over before you know it, and that’s a good thing. The plot and jokes retread what director Barry Sonnenfeld and his team of special effects wizards created in the summer of 1997. The film feels stale and lacks the creativity and fun of the original “Men In Black.”