Through its effective combination of action, imagery and wit, "Men in Black" accomplishes the same exploit than "Back to the Future" and deserves the title of the second most classic Sci-fi comedy ever.
Indeed, being the genre that requires the most expensive budgets, the most use of special effects, art-design and make-up, and relying on the difficult premise of spectacular entertainment and philosophical insights about human condition, Sci-fi was the most likely genre to be condemned for gravity and solemnity, no matter how heart-pounding the action is. Hence the heavyweights like "Blade Runner", "Terminator 2", "Avatar" or more recently "Prometheus", when it's all about wowing the audience, plunging viewers in a world of wonders and amazement, their disbelief suspended beforehand.
How refreshing now to have a movie like "Men in Black", one of the most original contributions to Sci-fi but never taking both genre and budget for granted, and as a result, never taking itself seriously. "MIB" is a hilarious spy-action-comedy involving probably the coolest-looking secret agency of the same name, well with their Ray-Ban sunglasses and black and white suits; they sure have the coolest outfits. And talk about a thrilling job: monitoring aliens who visit or live on Earth, and controlling their movements inside and outside the planet. In fact, they're not even aliens but inter-galactic immigrants.
And it really suits the film that it introduces the MIB during an arrest of illegal immigrants. Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and his partner intercept the patrol, and quickly exposes the alien, a weird bug-eyed Mexican who doesn't seem to understand one word of Spanish. His face reveals to be a human mask only held by a creature that bears some strange resemblance –sorry for the outrageous reference- with the monster in "Howard the Duck's". The monster jumps on the horrified border patrolman but is immediately blown-up by Agent K spilling a disgusting blue slime all over the place and the poor guy's face.
And then comes the key moment that unveils the film's most memorable device (after the black suits and sunglasses): the neuralyzer. Just one red flash, and the witness's memories of their recent sightings (and prevent the agency from some undesirable publicity) are instantly erased. Not only the poor patrolman and his colleagues have no clue about what is going on, but K's partner who feels it's time to retire will get the same treatment. He watches the stars in the dark sky and sadly declares "I'll miss the chase", to which K answers "No you won't", putting on his trademark sunglasses, and adjusting the neuralyzer.
The film cuts to Edwards (Will Smith) a NYPD officer chasing an extraordinarily fast and agile criminal who leaves no doubt about his 'extra-terrestrial' background. No one believes Edwards, except for the coroner Dr. Laura Weaver who just discovered some pretty weird stuff during her autopsy, her enthusiasm will be abruptly cut in one neuralyzing flash from agent K. He confronts him with a pawnshop owner (Tony Shalhoub) in order to find out the model of weapon used by the alien, Geebs knows nothing and then the bad cop/ good cop routine is suddenly interrupted by K blowing Geeb's head off
but only as a warning, the head grows back, contributing to one of the film's most defining moment.
Still, Edwards is not part of the secret anymore and as we expect, gets a little red flash in the eye (believe me, it never gets redundant) However, K finds some potential in Edwards and leaves him a business card to assist to a recruiting session. The test, the admission in the headquarters, the little aliens who specialized in making coffee, and Rip Torn as Z, the head of the agency, everything is a triumph of design and humor. The 'MIB' is like an intergalactic 'spaceport' with the widest range of Aliens' you'll find in a film, but even the most rudimentary is more convincing than "Independence Day" atrocious octopuses.
And the place works as a galactic bureau of investigation as well with all the procedural you'd expect, and treated the most seriously. And that's the greatest thing about "MIB" that aliens are visiting Earth or trying to find a cover is treated as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. In a brief screen showing different undercover aliens, we can immediately spot Sylvester Stallone, these gags are the soul of "Men in Black". And don't get me started with Pavillon State monument used as a disguise for two spaceships or a weird fireball being the cause of New York 1977 black-out.
But these gags work less because of their content than the way they're delivered. Tommy Lee Jones, with his humorless and very matter-of-fact tone, makes the weirdest information sound totally normal, therefore more hilarious. And the funniest thing is that we end up believing him. Would you believe he'll get the hottest information from cheap tabloid newspapers? Well, in fact, given the context of the film, it all makes sense.
However, the rhythm slows down a little because such a film still needs a villain who can only lead to more formulaic situation. The bad guy is played by Vincent d'Onofrio as a hillbilly whose skin was used to cover a hideous cockroach-like monster. His plot involves a small galaxy held by an Alien from an enemy planet, but it's not as creative as the whole set-up and while Fiorentino tries to find a place between the two leads, the film is never as funny and absorbing as when it involves Agent K and Agent J. The ending is perfect though with a last shot that teaches us a wonderful lesson of intergalactic-humility.
As a comedy, "MIB" captures the existential Sci-fi spirit more than serious films : life's a joke, but stars are still beautiful to watch or to paraphrase Will Smith, the difference between "MIB" and other Sci-fi, is that comedy makes it look good.
5 out of 7 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.