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'Men in Black II'

'Men in Black II' feels overshadowed by original

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

At the end of "Men in Black" in 1997, Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) was looking forward to being neuralized -- staring at a flashing light that would wipe out his recollections of chasing aliens.

 
 
"Men in Black II"

RATING: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some provocative humor

STARRING: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle.

DIRECTOR: Barry Sonnenfeld

WEB SITE: www.sonypictures
.com/meninblack

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

"I've just been down the gullet of an interstellar cockroach, kid. That's one of a hundred memories I don't want," he assured Jay (Will Smith), the savvy cop he had quietly been training as his replacement.

"See you around, Jay," Kay said. "No you won't," Jay replied.

Turns out Kay was right. They do see each other again, although it takes a couple of mismatched partners for Jay, the arrival of an alien who takes her fashion tips from a Victoria's Secret catalog and a threat to Earth to reunite the agents in "Men in Black II."

Watching "MIB II" is like revisiting a restaurant that was surprisingly pleasant the first time. You may try sitting at the same table, securing the same waiter and ordering the same meal, but you cannot duplicate the experience. It was all so fresh and hip and delicious the first time.

"MIB II" is fast (barely 90 minutes), fun and designed to capitalize on the synergistic pairing of Smith and Jones, but it feels rushed and slapdash at times, as when the fate of one of the supporting characters is unresolved. And don't look for Linda Fiorentino, last seen giving up her gig in the morgue to partner with Smith in the original; her absence is addressed in a throwaway line.

Still, it's mindless, critic-proof summer amusement that uses Michael Jackson as one of the best comic punchlines of the season. (Don't worry, he asked for it.) It combines purposely cheesy effects with digital wizardry and makes the aliens and the in-jokes bigger than ever.

"MIB II" spends the first 25 minutes reuniting Jay, now the top agent at the secret government agency, and Kay, who has been working at a post office since his memory was zapped.

Forcing their reunion is Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle), an evil Kylothian creature who disguises herself as a lingerie model and threatens to destroy Earth unless an object is returned to her. She seeks out a two-headed creature (Johnny Knoxville, supplying both noggins) for assistance, and they cross paths with a sweet pizza shop employee (Rosario Dawson) who touches a romantic chord in Smith's character.

"MIB II" follows Jay and Kay as they try to save the planet and encounter many of the same colleagues or adversaries from the first film: Zed (Rip Torn), the agents' gruff boss; Frank the Pug, a tough-talking dog; Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub), pawnshop owner; and the Worm Guys, who get their own bachelor pad here.

None of this matters as much as the comic chemistry between Smith and Jones. They really do click on screen and raise the level of the movie far beyond what it deserves. They get to engage in some agent role reversal as Jay barks out the orders and Kay temporarily acts like a newbie. Once Kay's back in the black suit and shades, they squabble over who's going to drive the snazzy car that doubles as product placement.

The sci-fi comedy, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and written by Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro, plays like a scavenger hunt, as the agents dash from this joke or alien here to that gag there. You can't take any of it too seriously as you wait for the Smith song "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)" to play over the closing credits and imprint itself on your brain.

Sonnenfeld, who knows expectations for "MIB II" are sky-high, is the atypical director told by the producers to please restore some scenes. I would like to see a few of those deleted moments turn up on the DVD and flesh out the picture.

Watching "MIB II" is like strolling briskly on the moving walkway at the airport; you're traveling at an unnaturally fast speed but you'll never nod off.

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