The obligatory operatic alien villain, Boris the Animal (Jermain Clement), of director Barry Sonnenfeld’s inevitable yet still oddly unexpected third entry into the Men In Black series is in the midst of his escape from his supposedly escape-proof cell in a specially crafted lunar prison when some sort of miniature spider-esque extra-terrestrial creature that aids in his fleeing crawls up his arm and into an opening in his other-wordly hand and Boris says – actually says out loud – to this creature: “You complete me.” And I thought: really? We’re still doing Jerry Maguire jokes? 16 years later? Hasn’t that played itself out by now? And yet the staleness of this reference is actually apropos, not simply to the production but to the theme of the film itself.
Imagine being with Will Smith, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, those endless wisecracks, incessant quips and wacky putdowns coming at you in waves. That would wear you down, right? Now you know how K (Tommy Lee Jones) feels having been paired with J (Smith) for the last 15 years. And as our two super secret government agents tasked with keeping the American public safe from and unaware of our many alien neighbors investigate Boris the Animal’s breakout, K makes no attempt to hide his irritation with J. Men In Black III, as it happens, resembles a sci-fi Hope Springs, Jones’ film set for release later this summer in which he plays one half of a burned out couple with Meryl Streep. K & J have an action packed union that is running on fumes.
But J realizes just how much he cares for K when he discovers one day that K has been dead for 40 years. This is because Boris the Animal has gone back in time and settled an old beef with K – the man who both put him behind bars on the moon and shot off his arm – by taking his life. But O (Emma Thompson, delightful and on target in too brief a part) figures things out with the aid of chocolate milk (don’t ask) and posits that if J can travel back in time but a mere day ahead of when Boris the Animal offs K that J can instead take Boris’s life. Problem solved! And after arguably the film’s most thrilling sequence in which J travels through time after jumping off the Empire State Building and winds up back in 1969, days ahead of the moon landing, which will prove crucial, all goes according plan until, as he must be, J is prevented from accomplishing his task by……K. Young K. 1969 K (Josh Brolin). So Men in Black III becomes Back to the Future with K jeopardizing his own existence a la Marty McFly and then having to battle to the last to keep himself alive for the future.
The typical hijinks ensue, though too often they feel safe and uninspired even if the basic idea is a good one. J finds out what it’s like to be a black man behind the wheel of an expensive automobile upon his initial arrival but then the screenplay opts out of that subject matter, as if afraid of offending the kiddies. Smith’s one-liners were my favorite part of the initial 1997 installment but the majority of them here feel as if they come off the assembly line to fill a mandated quota. Bill Hader has an amusing cameo as Andy Warhol but it is too brief to sustain momentum or work as the movie’s overall blessing. No, Men In Black III’s moderately saving grace turns out to be Josh Brolin mimicking Tommy Lee Jones. It might take a minute or two to settle into Brolin’s groove, to get a handle on just what he’s up to, and then you realize that not only is he doing a fantastic impression but he is miraculously cultivating a real human being in the midst of an impression.
Alas, the screenplay serves Brolin’s creation no justice and gives him precious little in the way of an arc outside of a lame attempt at romance with O (charmingly played by Alice Eve in the past) that actually makes little sense because, hey, didn’t K have a wife in the first movie, a wife that was decidedly not O? Ah well, that’s less bothersome than employing the Apollo 11 liftoff as your third act setpiece and failing to achieve any real sense of wonder or suspense. Remember the tension in Marty McFly trying to catch that lightning bolt to catch a ride home? Sonnenfeld’s climax is irritatingly perfunctory.
In the end, after the time traveling counseling session, K & J’s differences are supposedly resolved but I’m suspicious. If there is a Men In Black IV it will feature J making one more bad joke, K murdering him in a fed up rage and hiding his body in the floorboards. In other words, it is really time for these two dudes to start seeing other government agents.