Men In Black

on July 02, 1997 by Christine James
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   Based on the conspiracy theory that there is a secret cadre of black-suited men whose job is to cover up evidence of extra- terrestrial life, "Men In Black" takes this urban legend a fantastical step further. Tommy Lee Jones stars as Kay, a top MIB agent who not only conceals UFO landings but is part of a high-tech monitoring system of alien "immigrants" who take secret but legal refuge on earth. When "illegal" aliens pay our planet a visit, the MIB force must deal with them--a highly dangerous job that often results in slimy battles with malevolent multi-tentacled creatures.
   With his partner retireed, Kay recruits a young upstart NYPD cop, Jay (Will Smith), removing his identity down to the fingerprints. The gruff veteran/brash rookie chemistry is put in some comically extreme scenarios as a war-mongering, human-despising "bug" of an E.T. plots to destroy the world and start an intergalactic battle. Meanwhile, Jay is still incredulously processing the fact that aliens are practically omnipresent in Manhattan, and that such personages as Sylvester Stallone and Isaac Mizrahi are in fact not of this earth. (But is that really such a shock?)
   The special effects are amazing, as is expected from Industrial Light & Magic, but the great part is the surprising, inventive and wholly fun ways in which the effects are used. Particularly impressive is Rick Baker's makeup for the evil bug alien, who inhabits the body of a cantankerous farmer named Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio). As one might imagine, the shape of a giant insect monster is significantly different from that of a human, and so it's not exactly a perfect fit when Bug puts on his "Edgar" suit." Things protrude, bulge and poke--not to mention the fact that the deceased Edgar has begun to decompose. D'Onofrio's physical comedy is out-and-out hysterical, portraying Bug's increasing frustration at just trying to walk around and keep all his limbs in the right place. Even against such a scene-stealer, our two leads more than hold their own: Jones is dryly hilarious and Smith comically exuberant as the elite duo who are out to save the world. Additionally, there are endless unexpected and clever moments throughout the film in the writing and in the visuals, keeping the levity high.
   A weak part of the story is the under-explained motivations for and ramifications of killing an alien ambassador to start a war; also, a clue involving a cat is too insultingly obvious and primary. And, although there is a multitude of visual splendors, even more out-of-this-world gadgetry and a wider variety of aliens would have made the mythos feel more complete. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rip Torn and Linda Fiorentino. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Written by Ed Solomon. Produced by Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald. A Columbia release. SF/comedy/action. Rated PG-13 for language and sci-fi violence. Running time: 96 min
Tags: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rip Torn, Linda Fiorentino, Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Written by Ed Solomon, Produced by Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, A Columbia release, SF/comedy/action, physical, decompose, motivations, killing, alien
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