Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

The original Men In Black did a great job of mixing sci-fi and comedy. Which isn’t easy, as evidenced by that movie’s sequel, which didn’t have the same spark despite having the same cast (Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones), executive producer (Steven Spielberg), and director (Barry Sonnenfeld). Though not, perhaps tellingly, the same writer.

Now they’re all back — well, except for either film’s screenwriters — for a third go-round. And while it also doesn’t have the same spark as the first one (and maybe no M.I.B. sequel ever can, given how wholly original that first film was), it is, at the very least, a very fun and inventive romp.

To prevent an alien invasion, Agent J (Smith) must travel back to 1969 and stop an alien assassin, who also time traveled, from taking out a young version of Agent K (Josh Brolin as a young Tommy Lee Jones). What follows is an inventive look back at how aliens influenced the flower power era, how the M.I.B.’s futuristic tech has evolved, and how some of our favorite modern day conveniences are actually alien in origin. It’s not deep social commentary by any means, but some of it — especially when it involves a certain artist — is quite funny.

Together, it adds up to a very fun ride that, depending on how you feel about the second film, is either a big improvement or just as good, but still not as good as the original. And not just because Frank the pug is M.I.A. and the worms are largely pushed aside as well.

It’s also a film worth seeing in theaters, in no small part because it has the best use of 3D since A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. It’s used to great effect early on and at the end, especially when there’s heights involved, but does so in a way that’s doesn’t feel entirely gimmicky. In fact, it seems like the movie would work just as well in 2D, but that the 3D gives it, well, an added dimension.

It also has a couple of performances that are worth seeing on the big screen as well. As you’ve probably seen in the trailers and commercials, Brolin does a spot-on impression of Jones, from the mannerisms to the voice. It’s even better than when Rob Lowe played a young Robert Wagner in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Then there’s Emma Thompson, whose Agent O takes over for the late Agent Zed as the leader of the M.I.B. Maybe it’s because this comedic turn is largely out of character for this normally dramatic actress, or maybe she’s just that gifted of a comedian, but she is just absolutely hysterical as well as convincingly authoritative. Too bad she’s not in it more.

Lastly, Jermaine Clement from “Flight Of The Concords” deserves special recognition for doing a great Tim Curry impression as the bad guy Boris. It’s not as unoriginal as it might sound, and does provide a good foil for Smith’s always-ready-with-a-quip Agent J, but Clement still owes Curry something for the inspiration. Like maybe lunch.

Sadly, Clement also has the dubious distinction of delivering the film’s worst moment, a riff on that famous line from “Jerry Maguire.” Even worse, because this groan-inducing faux joke comes early in the movie, it may mislead you into thinking the rest of the film’s humor is going to be as obvious and unfunny. But don’t worry, it’s the lone groan in a movie full of clever situational humor, and is not indicative of the movie as a whole. Which actually just makes it stick out that much more.

In the end, Men In Black 3 is a fun and very watchable movie. You won’t feel compelled to run out and get the DVD or Blu-ray when they’re released in a few months, though you won’t angrily demand your money back either. For fans of this series, this may not match the original, but it is, especially for those who disliked the second one, a big improvement over that flick. Sure, mixing sci-fi and comedy still ain’t easy, but as Men In Black 3 shows, even when it doesn’t completely work, it’s still worth seeing.


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