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@MovieJay’s Review of Men In Black III

Thinking back over the experience of watching MiB3, I’m reminded of the phrase the late film critic Gene Siskel used that went, “This movie is an excuse for grown adults to make out and eat candy in the dark”.

Men in Black III arrives 15 years after the first one and a full decade since its lackluster sequel. No one was asking for or anticipating a threequel in the series other than maybe its director, Barry Sonnenfeld, but after delays and a price tag amounting to a surprising $215 million, I can report that the franchise is somehow still mysteriously unnecessary even though this new installment is pretty good. Go figure.

The MiB series lives in a very loose, mainstream place with its mix of lighthearted humor, appealing leads, self-awareness, and special effects that aren’t meant to call attention to themselves. In this universe of movies, Galaxy Quest would have to rank near the top with its laugh-a-minute dialogue. Spaceballs would have to be the guilty pleasure. What MiB and now MiB3 (essentially a do-over of the sequel that must never be spoken of by fanboys) are in this small sub-genre amounts to a public service for anyone on or around a fifth date, since it offers just the right tone of distraction meant for two people to distract themselves in public.

Tommy Lee Jones‘ Agent K, Will Smith‘s Agent J are back in fine form as secret agents who deal with and dispose of non-human life forms who live among us and are threats under a new supervisor, Emma Thompson‘s O. But it’s the additions of Josh Brolin as the younger K and Michael Stuhlbarg as the sidekick Griffin that make me recommend the picture.

I will not bore you with too much in the way of plot details except to inform that the movie uses the Back to the Future device here, sending J back to 1969 in order to intercept the movie’s baddie in Boris the Animal, definitely not the kind you bring home to meet your parents. In another strong supporting role that gives the movie some flavor, Jemaine Clement (yup, the Flight of the Conchords guy) plays Boris deliciously both in the present and as the Boris from ’69. They eventually have a scene together that is surprisingly funny.

Boris has been locked in a high security prison on the moon, and you know he’s going to break out because that’s what high security prisons in the movies were built for. Apparently he was locked up there for decades, which only makes people paying hard attention to this movie scratch their heads: How come he didn’t try getting out that way years ago? See, this is the kind of detail that is arbitrary to a couple on a fifth date. You just end up going with it despite yourself.

Boris gets the best special effects in the movie as his body appears to be a sort-of alien ant-farm with happenings such as his hand opening up with creatures coming and going, as they must, doing Boris the Animal’s bidding.

Jones and Smith bring the old charm back, and it’s never entirely fresh or tired, but more like happy in its own element. They’re familiar enough with each other that we never catch them trying too hard or pushing it. Jones appears mostly in the first third of the film, and then we go back 40 years where Brolin’s sampling job of the man is a wonder to discover. Makes sense: they were in No Country For Old Men together and Brolin did an exceptional cover of George Bush in W. At first, you may be tempted to believe that Jones’ voice is being dubbed here, Brolin is that good.

Michael Stuhlbarg‘s sidekick performance as the Elmer Fudd-looking Griffin is a delight to follow, a ton of nerdy wisdom about variances in time travel tucked underneath that hunter’s cap of his. Stuhlbarg is so good here that it wasn’t until the credits rolled it dawned on me that that was him. He was in the Coen Bros’ seriously underrated flick A Serious Man in a virtuoso performace as Larry Gopnick, a high school prof coming undone every which way but loose. He’s an actor you’ve seen around, but he’s not a household name, with credits that also include Hugo and two dozen episodes from Boardwalk Empire. His character here in Griffin is so likable that he deserves his own movie.

The movie’s final sequence defies expectations with rather heart-warming character revelations that are made as well as the back to the future mission that sees Agents K and J as contemporaries having to affix a gadget atop the Apollo mission that would eventually make it to the moon. Jones, Smith and Brolin retain the MiB code of dressing like they’re in Reservoir Dogs, though the dialogue of course is far more cheese-whizee than the old cheddar you get from Tarantino, but Sonnenfeld and his writing partner Etan Cohen get the job done in a movie with lighthearted appeal that never goes overboard.

Kudos as well to the crisp running time of about 90 minutes in an era when B movies have been suffering from Godfather-ish lengthiness.

Men in Black III ***