Parts of Men in Black 3’ are greater than sum
Aliens again. “Men In Black 3” revives the long-dormant franchise for an inessential new chapter in Hollywood’s never-ending story of Earth guys battling space intruders.
This third go-round throws lots of talent at the screen, from the effects-cluttered frames to the A-list supporting cast, featuring Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement and Emma Thompson. Maybe 40 percent of it sticks. On the other hand, there’s the patched-together script, haphazard direction and an ending that, given the level of expectations for the series, isn’t exciting enough. It’s OK.
Once again, the key to the film is Will Smith’s self-deprecating charm and his easy chemistry with co-star Tommy Lee Jones. As field agents for a secret interplanetary version of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, they keep tabs on Earth’s resident aliens, hunting down undesirables and using neutralizer wands to impose amnesia on civilians who observe them in action.
A decade after that untidy sequel, what’s left to carry the story is the ingenuity of makeup master Rick Baker’s ingenious alien designs, and performances of Jones as battle-hardened grouch Agent K and Smith as his upbeat partner J. It’s still an effective pairing.
This outing makes an effort to freshen the mix with a time-travel plot. Director Barry Sonnenfeld establishes the cartoonish tone at the outset. His camera leers as a slinky prison visitor (former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger) delivers an extremely suspicious pink cake to blustering villain Boris. A few explosions later, Boris is back on his alien motorcycle abetting an invasion force of giant floating jellyfish. Worse, K vanishes into a temporal wrinkle, leaving J no partner with whom to banter.
To rescue K and thwart the alien assault, J must travel back to 1969, on the day of a historic U.S. rocket launch.
“MIB3” is at its best when it throttles back the action to admire its actors. As the new head of the MIB agency, Thompson brings her luminous intelligence to bear on not-very-inspired jokes, improving them immensely. Jones grimaces and sighs eloquently, and Smith has a cracklingly funny scene when he runs afoul of 1969 racial profiling. Brolin’s performance goes beyond mimicry to something authentically touching in a poignant scene at the conclusion.
Still, these moments are more like skits than elements of a coherent plot. I liked bits and pieces of the film but I never felt the puzzle was fully assembled.