Men in Black 2

You know a big-budget special-effects driven movie is in trouble when a talking canine steals the spotlight. That’s what happens in “Men in Black 2,” a noisy, bigger-isn’t-necessarily-better sequel to the 1997 blockbuster. Despite all of the expensive window trapping and the return of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (in 1997 they were billed as Jones and Smith), “Men in Black 2” is a sequel that is much ado about nothing. Sorry Bill.


“Men in Black 2” suffers from the inevitable pitfalls of a sequel: More money, less story. Indeed, “MIB2” is filled with all sorts of colorful eye candy, larger than life set pieces, and enough computer effects to buy George Lucas another ranch. What it lacks is a strong story, clever dialogue and a menacing villain.

Audiences may find all of this appealing while in the moment, but once the film ends, it ends. There are no truly great, unexpected or hilarious moments that demand discussion. Most of the film is instantly forgettable, an explosion of digital effects and character rejects from a “Star Wars” casting call that do nothing to remind you of the original.

Writers Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro take the easy way out. They rehash the same plot, only this time they reverse the personalities traits of Agents “K” and “J.” Once the senior agent, K’s (Jones) memory was erased at the end of the original and he now works as a clueless postmaster in New England.

Agent J (Smith) is now the senior agent for the top secret government agency that tracks and hunts down renegade aliens on Earth. At first the role reversal shows promise, but it doesn’t take long before we realize the writers are trotting out the same old dog and pony show. That dog would be Frank (voice of Tim Blaney), the pugnacious Pug who took a licking from J in the original and kept on ticking.

Frank is but one of several agents teamed with J, who can only take so much ineptitude before he erases their memories with his neuralizer. Frank is the funniest thing in “MIB2,” a four-legged freak who has the best lines. The filmmakers try to impress the audience by throwing money hand over fist at the screen, and a small dog with a computer generated mouth walks off with best in show.

Smith and Jones aren’t bad, they’re just not given much to do. While the special effects have become bigger (and more obvious), the characters have gotten smaller and less interesting. “Men in Black” was about agents chasing aliens. “MIB2” is about aliens chasing agents. Reversing the roles of J and K may have provided the writers with some much needed (but extremely strained) humor, but flip-flopping the man-versus-alien plot backs them up against a brick wall.

Aliens were part of the landscape in the original, here they are the landscape. There are way too many of them. Instead of being special, they clutter the screen with their see-through mechanics. The visual effects team seem more preoccupied with making their mark in the industry than creating seamless creatures.

Smith looks bored as he interacts with these effects, passing time until he reunites with Jones. The chemistry between J and K is still alive, but it’s on life support. The exchanges sound tired and tenuous, and lack verbal vigor. K is brought out of retirement (and eventually his haze) to help J save the world from Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle), an evil alien who has returned to Earth to retrieve the light of Zartha, a powerful energy source being safeguarded by the Men in Black since the 1970s.

Unlike Vincent D’Onofrio’s grotesque Edgar (the bug creature in “Men in Black”), Boyle’s Serleena never seems menacing. When Serleena’s not parading around as Boyle (an image lifted from a magazine ad), she’s a multi-tentacle creature that has clearly been generated in a computer. Boyle doesn’t seem to understand the nature of the beast, and fails to play Serleena as larger than life. In this instance, more would have been better.

Franchise regulars Rip Torn (sadly underused) and Tony Shalhoub (sadly overused) are back, but missing in action is Linda Fiorentino, the tough-as-acrylic coroner who effectively neutralized the testosterone level of the first film. Her character is instantly dismissed with one line of dialogue, and a spunky but not nearly as sprite Rosario Dawson steps up to the plate as a Pizza restaurant waitress who is pivotal to capturing Serleena and J’s heart.

None of the actors have the support of director Sonnenfeld, who leaves them struggling to stay afloat in a tidal wave of visual vomit. It’s as though the director knew the script was thin, so instead of pumping up the script, he pumps up the volume. Maybe he thought Smith and Jones would be able to rise above the noise. He was wrong.

PUG WITH A MUG Noisy “Men in Black 2” goes straight to the dog

MEN IN BLACK 2

Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle, Rosario Dawson, Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub, Johnny Knoxville. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Rated PG-13. 88 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $4.00



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