Despite a few good ideas - Josh Brolin cast as a young Tommy Lee Jones; a cameo by SNL’s Bill Hader as Andy Warhol – the third installment of the MEN IN BLACK series is exactly what I expected. Every joke and plot point of this series of CGI-saturated set-pieces is mechanically in place in this standard-issue sequel right off the formulaic franchise assembly-line.
It’s been 10 years since MiBII (and 15 years since MiB), and not much has changed.
Will Smith and partner Jones are still up to their top-secret agency’s alien neutral zone policing, only Rip Torn doesn’t return to play their boss Agent Z. Instead they’ve got Emma Thompson, severly underwritten as Agent O, who figures out that there’s been a fracture in the time-space continuum because Smith came to work craving chocolate milk (that’s right). This is after Smith wakes up in a world in which Jones has been dead for 40 years.
You see, when the evil intergalactic criminal Boris the Animal (Flight of the Conchords’ Jermaine Clement) escaped from a Lunar prision (the film’s big opening scene), he traveled back in time to 1969 (via a time-jump device obtained in a pawn shop) and killed Jones, so Smith has got to go back to the past and save his gruff partner. Then they can save the world from, I dunno, alien jellyfish descending on the planet?
This is where Brolin comes in with a pitch-perfect impersonation of Jones. This central gimmick works well initially (Brolin does Jones so much better than he did Dubya), and helps carry the film from half-chuckle to half-chuckle.
Jones really made out well in this outting - he only has to appear in the beginning and end of the film, but still gets his name above the title while a young hot actor embodies his persona for the rest of the picture.
There are a lot of possibilities for larger-than-life laughs here, such as retro aliens a la late ‘60s sci-fi (think Star Trek and Lost in Space), Clement’s bickering with his younger dumber double, andMichael Stuhlberg (A SERIOUS MAN, Boardwalk Empire) as a quirky visionary alien, but as big as the spectacle gets (and with its Cape Canaveral climax it gets pretty big), the attempts at creating actual comedy are few and futile.
It feels as if the film is so slickly streamlined that any notion of inventive wit would only get in the way. A throwaway one-liner spoutin’ Smith kickin’ extraterrestrial ass is always a surefire summer movie-going audience pleasing scenario, so why mess with success?
Basically, MiBIII isn’t a great movie, but it’s a sturdy franchise entry.