Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I saw this nearly a week ago. It’s taken me this long to write something on it for two reasons: (A) I was under an embargo, and wasn’t technically allowed to write about it until the day of release and (B) I just haven’t had anything to say.
This is one of those movies that evaporates like snow on your tongue even as you watch it. Nothing sticks. It’s not bad. It’s not poorly made. It’s performed with a certain amount of energy and charm across the board. But there’s nothing to it. It seems to be almost the exact opposite of substantial. Even as sequels go, it’s wafer thin. It’s almost like everyone is in a rush for the film to be over from the moment it begins. Jokes are hurried through in a perfunctory manner. Characters are introduced then hustled offscreen quickly.
If I have a major complaint about the film, it’s that they never stop to let any of the decent ideas here sink in. As a result, no one stands out because no one is given enough room to stand out. Johnny Knoxville should be most irritated by the almost insanely fast pace of the film. His character is defined by about as much dialogue overall as Ray Park had as Toad in X-MEN. Between the two heads, you think they might have been able to give him at least one interesting or memorable thing to say. Instead, he’s relegated to the background and seems to finally just disappear without explanation. Patrick Warburton is also onscreen way too briefly, and seeing his work made me wish they’d found a way to keep him in the rest of the film. He managed to bring the same slightly disconnected charm that brought to Sonnenfeld’s TV version of THE TICK.
Then, as if by contrast, other gags and characters overstay their welcome this time. Frank The Dog is funny in brief bits. I still think Tommy Lee Jones shaking the information out of him in the first film is one of the best visual gags of Sonnenfeld’s career. There was something deeply, primally funny about that dog’s dizzy responses. And Tony Shaloub’s brief appearance as Jeebs was memorable, effective because of how succinct and sharp it was.
So, of course, both of them have been given bigger roles this time, along with the worm guys who showed up in a few quick shots in the first movie. And as a notion, that’s fine. I wish they’d gone further with the notion of the worms as swinging bachelor scum and given them a little bit more personality. One of the things that Joe Dante always did so well with the GREMLINS films was how he gave each of the different Gremlins something distinct that set them apart and gave you a way to recognize them. They had personality. The worms should be funnier than they are. Frank The Dog is actually the best used of the extended cameos this time, I thought. As much as I hate dated pop culture jokes, the second song that Frank sings gets a well-deserved laugh, and Smith’s exasperation with him is funny each and every time. Shaloub is a great, great character performer, and I’ve written love letters to his work in both comic (QUICK CHANGE) and serious (BIG NIGHT) roles now. I was excited that Robert Gordon, who wrote GALAXY QUEST, was writing this film because of how he managed to give Shaloub just enough on the page to create something unforgettably funny. This time out, the script (co-written by Barry Fasano) gives Jeebs a fair amount of screen time, but surprisingly few laughs.
In a strange twist, David Cross returns, but he’s not playing the same character as he did in MEN IN BLACK. In the first film, he was a morgue attendant with a particular (and ironic) dislike of insects. This time, he’s the manager of a small cult video store. He’s like a slightly more sinister version of Justin Long’s character from GALAXY QUEST, and his scene has one of the funniest punchlines of the movie. I actually thought Biz Markie was hysterical, too, with the beat box language he speaks to Will Smith managing to crack me up even after seeing the trailers a grazillion times before seeing the film.
Speaking of Will Smith, is it just me or did he have trouble shaking the Muhammad Ali voice for about the first half of this film? It keeps creeping in at the strangest moments. He gives a solid comic performance, though, and this film reminded me of why I do like Will Smith on film. He’s got wicked comic timing, and he can take nothing lines and make them funny, a real skill. There’s a little hesitation after “The last suit you’ll ever wear... again...” that just makes me laugh all by itself. It’s the sort of thing that makes you value a comedy star.
Same thing with Tommy Lee Jones and his remarkable hangdog deadpan. Nothing cracks him here. As his memory returns, he underplays magnificently. Shame about the waste of Rip Torn, one of the most valuable comedy supporting actors working. He has absolutely nothing to do as Zed. Lara Flynn Boyle is stranded as well as Serleena. Mainly she stands around and points her fingers at people. Considering that she’s the main bad guy and her plan is the engine to the whole film, she’s pretty much undeveloped, and I have no real idea what she’s chasing or why. There’s no sense of peril... not even comic peril... as a result. The original GHOSTBUSTERS still stands as the gold standard for end of the world threats that are actually funny. This is so half-hearted as to be instantly forgotten. You actually forget it as you watch it. It’s that transitory.
The most important returning player, though, is Rick Baker. His designs in the film are playful and entertaining, and he manages to give life to some great new alien races here, including the guys in the globe that Tommy Lee Jones “touches” and a very funny culture of little fuzzy dudes who show up in an unexpected location. Even the background aliens in the film are given a lot of thought, and it makes the world feel authentic, which is always important when trying to sell a SF or fantasy concept. I liked Sonnenfeld’s other sequel, ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES. I liked it more than I liked the original ADDAMS FAMILY film. I thought it was meaner, more in line with the original tone of the Addams cartoons, and that it gave Paul Rudnick one of his best chances to write a really wicked studio film. I was hoping that he would turn the whole MEN IN BLACK vibe up a notch or two here. I don’t think the original was a shining work of art, but it was a very polished commercial film, a confident kickoff to a potential franchise. The original film even took a few moments to breathe, featuring one scene that had a line I still think is beautifully written:
1500 years ago, everybody knew that the earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody knew that the earth was flat. And 15 minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.
There’s not one moment in this film as quietly intelligent as that in the new film. So much of the movie is made up of waiting for them to reference the first movie in some way that it feels like a second episode of a TV show where they spend most of their time reminding you what happened in the first one. We didn’t need this much preamble with so little payoff. It feels like a cheat. Don’t get me wrong... MEN IN BLACK 2 definitely has entertainment to offer. But it’s too slight. It’s like buying a cheeseburger and biting into it, only to discover they forgot the meat. All the trimmings are there. Someone just forgot to give us something to chew on.
Here’s the reactions of some readers who saw the film in the days before release, the last batch of reviews we’re going to run here. Let’s start with frequent Talk Backer BurlIvesLeftNut:
I saw Men in Black II at a press screening on Monday night in Houston. The screening was uneventful except for this one twisted fuck of an organizer who liked yelling at the entire auditorium to find seats quickly. Like these people have never been to a crowded movie before. Also there was an extended commercial for SprintPCS that left me and my companion totally baffled.
First, let me say I never really enjoyed Men in Black all that much. It was a decent enough movie with nice special effects and a great production design. But the movie always felt like a trifle. There was nothing of substance to it and I felt like I had watched a 44 minute episode of MIB: The TV Series. It was probably Sonnenfeld’s intent to make the movie this way because the guy can do good work, but I didn’t have much of an appreciation for it. Did Men in Black 2 change my mind at all? No.
Jay has spent his time between movies going through partner after partner (Elle is explained away efficiently enough). His partner at the start of the movie is Patrick Warburton in what was thankfully little more than a cameo because he was over acting to such a degree that he made me re-evaluate my love for the Puddy. Anyhoo, from that point Jay investigates an alien on alien murder. Apparently there is a vicious alien named Serleena who has been after something called the Light of Zarthon (?) since the 60s or 70s. The original protector of this was none other than Kay. So, Jay is sent to find and de-neuralyze Kay. As you can imagine, from this point on, hilarity ensues. Or not really.
I didn’t find anything stupendously funny about the movie. As I write this it seems to be fading from my mind. There are a couple of good chuckles, but nothing that made me piss my pants. And we all know how great a good pants-pissing joke is. A couple of the gags, including an autopilot that just keeps popping up for no apparent reason, just fall flat.
The performances are all pretty good. Smith and Jones give it their best, even though the script is a little beneath their talent. Lara Flynn Boyle was just as creepy as she always is. And Frank, the alien dog, steals every scene he is in. I was a little disappointed in Rip Torn’s performance. He was wasted here totally and there is one achingly lame scene where he tries to ‘fight’ Serleena that made me feel sorry for the old coot.
If you enjoyed Men in Black, go and see this movie. They are pretty much carbon copies of one another. Its not a bad movie. Again, the production design is great. Special effects are top notch and Jones and Smith are serviceable. If you didn’t like Men in Black, then what can I say, don’t bother with this one.
Sorry for this little wisp of a review, but it was a wisp of a movie.
Here’s The Paladin, who paused in his travels to fire off this quick thought:
I love summer blockbusters. I am also a Will Smith fanboy. I liked the Fresh Prince, didn’t see every episode, but what I saw was good. I thought Bad Boys was good fun. Independence Day is actually one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time. For me it represents the pinnacle of achievement for a summer blockbuster: a great adventure, a fun story, but it also felt real. I believed that those events could take place in the world I live in if it were extended a little. I loved the first Men In Black. It had all of these elements, but with a few minor flaws. It felt mostly real, but with a few exceptions: remember that scene where that alien asked for that glass of water with sugar? That part afterwards where he stretched his face was simply not needed. And personally, I found that talking dog more annoying than Jar Jar. Fortunately he was only in the movie for a very short time. These are just two examples of where Sonifeld made it too campy. Despite this, it! was still a fun summer blockbuster, one that you go to see for a good time. In short, MIB succeeded DESPITE the camp, not because of it!
Before Wild Wild West came out, I was looking forward to seeing it. I heard about the bad press. I had also heard the same about ID4 and MIB, and simply ignored it. I walked into the theater ready to see another Will Smith summer blockbuster. I was sure that 2 hours later I would be reflecting over what was clearly going to become another of my favorite movies… I couldn’t have been more wrong!
I was truly disappointed with WWW. It was immediately obvious what Barry Sonnenfeld had done. Take MIB, remove all of the best parts of the movie, replace everything it did right with an expansion of all of its flaws to fill in the gaps. That is essentially what WWW was.
When I first learned that Sonnenfeld and Smith were making MIB II I was happy. People learn from their mistakes, don’t they? Look at the improvement of Attack of the Clones over Phantom Menace. WWW also came out in 1999, and since then we have had movies like X Men and Spider Man. What was so good about these? Look back to what I said about ID4: a great adventure, a fun story, and they felt like an extension of the world I live in. Those events could conceivably take place in my world (unlike the post office scene from MIB II). Sonnenfeld should have realized this after the failure of WWW.
When I first started seeing the trailers for MIB II, I worried that Sonnenfeld had not learned this lesson. Despite this, I walked into the theater wanting at least to like it. Unfortunately there is just nothing there to like about this movie. That annoying dog is Smith’s partner for much of the movie, the entire US postal system is run by aliens (Despite the fact that aliens are restricted to New York – which is why the only MIB office is in New York) and there is just way way too much needless camp. Just as in WWW, the main flaw is simply an overdose of camp that just leaves you not wanting to look at the screen any more. I am not sure if it was my imagination, but I thought I saw a slight look of sad acceptance on the faces of Smith and Jones – like they realized how bad the movie would turn out, but could do nothing to prevent it.
I look at MIB II the same way I do WWW: I don’t hate it, I am simply disappointed in it. It could have and should have been a better movie. I remember reading a while back that when Will Smith read the first script he called it "brilliant", and Sonnenfeld would likely have it revised. Although I have not read it, I find it hard to believe that the script could have been as bad as the one they used to shoot the movie.
It is my hope that someone involved in the production of the movie will read this review, and consider my thoughts. I really would like to see another great Will Smith summer blockbuster. If that does not happen, at least this will serve as a warning to avoid this movie.
Here’s the Ram Man, similarly dissatisfied. I swear... I’m running everything in the inbox. I’m not just trying to run the film down. This is just the way the reviews came in on this one:
Hey everyone, just got back from catching a screening of mib 2 at the nearby movie theater, im not gonna bore you with what happened before i got there and this and the other. heres the whole thing straight. before going i knew that the movie was going to be short, about an hour and a half short. after i came out of it i felt as if i had just sat through pearl harbor. which is not a good thing, just in case u were confused. the movie was tagged with some cg short that i can barely remember, but do remember it sucked. Something about little chickens eating things and yoda and darth vader arm wrestling. also small cameos by et and jar jar binks. from hear in, I was already bored. it wasnt even the movie and i was about to go nutts. not a good thing either. a funky small show clip lays down the plot for the movie, in short, long time ago aliens come, leave a light thing of some sort and leave. yeah yeah, not enough to grab my attention. j comes in, rides a big bug in the subway! , almost blows it up, and neurolizes some people. has a cup of coffee, and neurolizes his partner. in comes the dog which tries to crack a few jokes and fails. i guess that watching the preview with him sticking his head out the window and singing took all the fun out if it when i actually saw it. so the hot chick with the tenticles, dont really know what to say about her, shes hot, but she didnt come off as a villain type. her character seem to be not so important to the film. Johny knockville's character was the same, perhaps the worst part of the movie, even the cg extra head was horrible. he did not come off with a funny scene at all. the dude just isnt funny unless his getting hit in the balls. so the rest of the movie, well k comes back after almost an eternity of trying to get him to come back, and when he decides he wants to try and come back another eternity passes before he is remotely similar to the character he played in mib1. he isnt as witty and funny as in the! first one. the movie is always urgent, trying to get somewhere, in a rush, but not in a rush to solve the problem and save the earth, but in a rush to hurry up and wrap things up so the credits can roll and the theatre can be cleaned and it can start again. this movie unfortunatly comes off as obviously being made so that it can make a profit. and im sure it will. but it still is a bad movie. its not as creative or witty as the first. it doesn’t hold ur interest. it doesnt make u think, "what if?". im sure ive seen some of the cartoon episodes that are better than mib2. so will i go see it again? no. do i recomend others to go see it? no. rent it? maybe. id just wait until they show it on tv around thanksgiving. if u want to laugh im sure ud have a better time watching mr. deeds, or even that bow wow movie. this time, will smith, and barry sonnenfeld hit a low. why did i not mention mr. jones, cause i remember he not wanting to do it. but then again, he waited until he got millions until he said yes. just skip it.
And, finally, The Pole Of Justice, another Talk Backer who’s been sending us reviews lately.
Spoilers, I guess.
Why “I guess?” Well, because the term “spoilers” denotes that there’s something to spoil, and I can’t really say there is anything like that in MEN IN BLACK II. Not that it’s bad, mind you. It’s just not particularly good.
If I may begin at the beginning: I really enjoyed the first one. It was mindless fluff, and succeeded admirably. A sequel seemed inevitable. A previous writer said this movie was just going through the motions, and they pretty much nailed it. You could quite accurately sum the film up like this: some stuff happened. Then some other stuff happened. Then this third thing that kinda had something to do with the first thing happened. And so on. The film opens with a fake “Unsolved Mysteries” looking thing with Peter Graves, explaining one of the past MIB exploits. The special effects in the “recreation” are beyond Ed Wood level bad, and thus the film sets it’s tone: obvious, obvious jokes, lazily produced.
But inoffensive. MIB II is the cinematic equivalent to Wonder Bread: not bad, not good, too bland to imagine anyone getting worked up about it one way or the other. Will Smith has to get Tommy Lee Jones back into the force, because only he knows a secret about the light of…Hell, I don’t remember. Light something. He gets his memory back, but had previously flashed himself after concealing the secret, so now Smith and Jones have to figure out what’s going on according to clues Jones left before he flashed himself. There’s no real mystery: it’s all just a slapped together excuse to get J and K in assorted scenes with some of the characters from the first movie. Eventually they figure stuff out, and that’s it.
I’m not being obtuse deliberately. It’s just that this film seems to have been made up as they went along, and since the whole thing doesn’t maintain any real connection with itself, you’ve quite literally forgotten a scene by the time the next one unfurls. Every shot feels like a first or second take, almost as if the director said “did they get all the words out in the right order? Yes? Okay! Cut, print. Next scene.”
A good example of this “whatever” attitude is David Cross’ character (who probably had a name, but…) He had what basically amounted to a cameo in the first one, and in this film, he’s obviously had contact with the MIBs before. So he’s the same character, right? Well, no: he can’t be. He worked at a mortuary in the first one, and here he’s the semi-unknowing keeper of a clue that he must have been overlooking for 20 years or so, that has nothing to do with mortuary work at all. Plot hole? Oversight? I don’t think it’s that complicated. I think someone said “hey, let’s put David Cross in this one, too,” so they did.
Granted, you could certainly do worse than put David Cross in your movie, even if he’s just kind of there. Which is as good an indicator as anything of my ultimate attitude towards MIB II. I had a decent enough time. The film didn’t really drag anywhere (and at 87 minutes or so, there really isn’t room for that kind of thing anyway.) The cast is perfectly likeable. The aliens are cool looking. **SPOILER** The ending has a revelation of sorts: Rosario Dawson turns out to be K’s daughter (I think. Probably. Again, this movie has no conviction in ANYTHING.) This is neither expected nor unexpected: it merely inspires the thought that, yeah, Hollywood would have to stick something like that in there, wouldn’t they? The ending is patriotic, which feels a bit tacked on, but hey, I won’t begrudge ‘em trying to make the audience happy. That is, after all, what they’re there for.
So ends MIB II. It thanks you politely for your time, asks that you please place all cups and containers in the waste bins on your way out, and please drive home safely. I picture the following scenario for its July 4th release:
Your parents are in town for the holiday weekend. You suggest seeing a movie. Minority Report? Nah, that’ll freak Mom out. Lilo and Stitch? Dad doesn’t like cartoons. MIB II? Sure, why not? You see it, smile pleasantly at your parents, and suggest a place for dinner. You had a decent time, but you’ve already forgotten about it by the time the waiter takes your drink order. And you all live happily ever after.
Happy 4th of July, everybody. See you back here tomorrow.