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FILM REVIEW: Men in Black 3

Categories: Movies

Will Smith and Tommy Lee JonesWill Smith, left, and Tommy Lee Jones star in Men in Black 3. (Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures)

Agent K: When you get sad, it always seems to rain.

Laura: Lots of people get sad when it rains

Agent K: It rains because you're sad, baby.

A strange blend of Beat poetry with a dash of Philip Marlowe, the exchange above -- between Tommy Lee Jones and Rosario Dawson -- is the Men in Black series at its best.

Everyone has films for which he or she has an irrational fondness. For me, MIB 1 and 2 are definite guilty pleasures. At its best, the films are like a twisted Twilight Zone, but with a sense of humour. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, there's a sense of grandeur about the series. It wasn't just the fact that these monochrome cops protected the Earth from extraterrestrial threats. It was how aliens made life on this little blue marble make sense. MIB is a cosmic macramé of urban myths and conspiracy theories, knit together with a snappy script as well as the salt-and-pepper pairing of Jones and Will Smith.

Fast forward to today and the movie for which no one was clamouring. MIB 3 was such debacle from the beginning that the production actually began shooting without a finished script and was forced to take a lengthy pause as screenwriters scrambled to finish the story.

That's right, screenwriters (plural). It took four scribes to wrestle this story into submission, including the mysterious Michael Soccio, a writer who goes back to Smith's Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days.

With an Edward Gorey-like font and thrumming soundtrack, MIB 3 begins with a very Addams Family feeling (One of director Sonnenfeld's earliest and best pictures). But this is darker and nastier MIB.

In a supermax-style prison, we meet Boris the Animal: a savage-looking villain played by Jemaine Clement channeling Tim Curry. Boris is apparently some sort of insect-like alien with a subcreature that crawls out of a toothy orifice in his palm (!) -- perhaps a distant cousin to the Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth.

Unsettling beginning out of the way, we're whisked off to New York and yet another day on the job with Agents J and K (Smith and Jones). It feels like Lethal Weapon 4, with two brand name actors just mouthing the words. J and K might have gelled as a team in the previous films, but now it's Grump and Grumpier as Jones looks tired and the Smith's usual charisma appears miscalibrated.

As the pair bicker about communication, the movie lurches toward a turning point: K is erased from history and, as the only person who remembers him, J must travel back in time to un-erase his partner and prevent villain Boris from summoning an alien fleet to destroy the Earth.

Here we get a brief glimpse of the ol' Men in Black magic: to activate a time-travel device, J must fling himself off a skyscraper. As he plummets to the street below, he's also falling through time itself. First, modern-day Manhattan rushes towards us, then it's a glimpse of the Triassic era complete with swooping pterodactyls. At one point, he passes through the Wall Street crash of 1929 and is joined by stockbrokers on their own way down.

Josh BrolinJosh Brolin stars as a younger Agent K in Men in Black 3. (Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures)

But land J does, bringing the audience to one of the few bright spots in the sequel: Josh Brolin as the younger Agent K.

Brolin allegedly isolated himself in a Mexican motel for weeks to capture the essence of Jones... and he nails it -- the Texan's squinty-eyed gaze, the twang of his particular tenor and that drawl that slips between syllables.

Though Brolin gets to strut his stuff, the story doesn't do much to exploit the 1969 setting. Granted, the space-age set design is spectacular and make-up artist Rick Baker whips up a great gallery of campy creatures. But one would think MIB would have gotten a little more mileage out of sending Smith's character -- a confident, self-possessed agent -- back into the Civil Rights era.

Yet again, it's largely a missed opportunity save for a predictable encounter with local police and an amusing, shrugged-off salute to a Black Panthers member. The best MIB 3 can do is poke fun at Andy Warhol and his happenings at the Factory. Like suggesting Lady Gaga is an alien, the whole bit seems a little too easy.

Another bright spot is that we're introduced us to Griffith, an alien psychic hiding in his wool toque who sees the future as a set of constantly forking realities. Actor Michael Stuhlbarg, (who some might remember from A Serious Man) gives the character a touch of childlike wonder as he geeks out at baseball games and nervously twitters about darker realities.

Eventually, MIB 3 coalesces into its own predictable climax: a rocket launch and another face-off to save the planet. The film ends with a touching scene meant to explain K's permanent scowl -- a neat trick that would have been a more meaningful moment if MIB 3 hadn't squandered our affection with the 100 minutes of chaos that preceded it.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5

Josh Brolin and Will SmithPHOTO Josh Brolin, left, and Will Smith appear in a scene from Men in Black 3. (Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures)

Postscript: Looking ahead, it seems Will Smith really is trapped in the past. His recently announced upcoming films include Bad Boys 3, I, Robot 2 and Hancock 2.

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