Movie review: 'Men in Black 3' pales in comparison to predecessors

Men in Black 3" is bigger than its predecessors but not better. And, alas, not funnier.

When the second movie was released in 2002, a cameo by Michael Jackson was greeted by so much laughter that you couldn't even hear the dialogue.

Nothing in the third installment comes close, although Josh Brolin does a dandy job as a youthful version of Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K. He nails the "surly Elvis thing" as partner Agent J (Will Smith) describes it, along with Mr. Jones' vocal inflections, slight twang and body language.

'Men in Black 3'

2.5 stars = Average
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson.
  • Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content.

The story opens in a lunar prison where a frightful one-armed alien known as Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, "Flight of the Conchords") escapes. Boris wants to go back in time to kill Agent K before he has a chance to shoot off the alien's arm and thwart an invasion.

Turns out Agent J needs to leap back to July 1969, too, to save his partner and the planet. Maybe J will pick up some clues about why K became such an emotionless stone face? Even the young K asks his visitor from the future, "What kinda partners sit in a car for 14 years and don't talk?"

"Men in Black" doesn't just allow characters to time travel but also to watch or encounter younger versions of themselves along with aliens in modern-day and retro guises. The future of the world, along with insight to the partners' past including a tender secret, is at stake.

So, it would appear, is a budget reported to be $215 million and a tortured history of starting the sci-fi sequel without a finished script. All that matters is what's on the screen, but the few funny lines sound as if they were ad-libbed by Mr. Smith, and the HQ where faces of secret aliens flash on a screen is so enormous and busy that you have to look past the actors to see the pictures of Lady Gaga and director Tim Burton (any others lost on me).

The insider fun is missing and much missed, although energy and money were poured into elaborate sets, including a couple of historical re-creations, vehicles and supporting characters such as Michael Stuhlbarg as an alien who lives in a realm of multiple possible realities and an agent named O (the sprightly teaming of Alice Eve in the past, Emma Thompson in the present).

Watching this third installment, directed again by Barry Sonnenfeld and available in 3-D in select locations, is like going to an elaborate party at the home of someone who's made it. Sure, it's nice to have a fully stocked bar and waiters passing hors d'oeuvres, but you miss the old days when the beer was on the back porch, all the guests were new and the fun was fresh and a little freaky.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published May 25, 2012 4:00 AM


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