More fun with aliens
Men in Black II sticks to the original formula for an entertaining summer blockbuster
Men In Black II is both a lively sequel and a missed opportunity.
It’s a frisky revival of the offbeat heroes and sly humor of the 1997 original, but some of its best moves hint at the potential for a much more resounding film than this one ends up being.
MIBII’s droll, deadpan take on the cult of UFOs and its subcultural mythology is both continued and renewed in this follow-up. Much of what was engaging about the original the allusive and literate wisecracking, the nutty sight gags, the wacky ways of the aliens is back in something like full force.
Perhaps because of a built-in tendency to trivialize its most pointed bits of satire, MIBII ends up looking like something less than the sum of its parts. But the parts are something to behold and enjoy just the same. With Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) in temporary deneuralized retirement, Agent J (Will Smith) has to suffer through a series of misadventures in which he’s paired with new partners who are more hindrance than help. One is a blubbering ex-Marine who washes out early on, and the other is a talking dog, a foul-mouthed cigar-smoking pug who just might be the most-admired character/caricature in the entire film.
The two main females in the film are a pair of black-haired beauties Lara Flynn Boyle and Rosario Dawson in diametrically opposed roles. Boyle is the Medusa/Matrix arch-fiend Serleena, an alien in black leather who emits whip-like snakes from her fingertips. Dawson is Laura Vasquez, a wide-eyed innocent and not so insignificant by-stander to one of Serleena’s lethal incursions.
Tony Shalhoub and Rip Torn are back for metamorphic reprises of their roles in the original, but neither is as intriguing as Johnny Knoxville playing a two-headed dweeb whose smaller noggin keeps popping raucously out of the backpack which is intended to disguise it.
Cameos by Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart and a crack at Steven Spielberg add to the film’s pop cultural prickliness, with Jackson’s bit striking the weirdest moment in the film. But the best of the cameos is Peter Graves hosting a mock-tabloid TV show in a manner that combines his personae from the televised Mission Impossible (heroic authority) and the Airplane! series (farce).
In one of the best moments of all, Agent K finds an alternate universe of desperately religious aliens living in a locker at Grand Central Station. It’s a wonderfully surreal touch and it makes for some exceptionally resonant satire. Too bad this imaginative and diverting film couldn’t have taken fuller inspiration from such moments.