MEN IN BLACK (1997)

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Will Smith
Tommy Lee Jones
Linda Fiorentino
Rip Torn
Vincent D'Onofrio
Tony Shalhoub
Siobhan Fallon

Barry Sonnenfeld



Time: 98 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Science Fiction/Comedy

Won Academy Award for Best Makeup. Nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Original Score.

MEN IN BLACK is a raucous, funny, action, sci-fi film with great laughs, cool special effects and perfect pacing. Finally, a filmmaker who's done something right. I'm not claiming that MEN IN BLACK is an instant classic, I'm just glad that Barry Sonnenfeld had the presence of mind to keep it short, sweet and to the point. There are certain movies made for sultry summer days and this is mind candy made right. I'm sure they left plenty on the cutting room floor, which is one of the main reasons I liked it as much as I did. I left wanting more, which these days rarely happens.

Of course, the brevity of the film is not the real reason I enjoyed this movie. The concept is brilliant, clever and painstakingly executed to a tee. The main plot focuses on present day earth where, unbeknownst to most humans, aliens are living among us. It's the job of a secret government agency, the Men in Black, to keep tabs on these "visitors" and keep the planet safe for both human and alien alike. They deport those creatures who don't have permission to be here and mind-erase their existence from any humans who happen to see more than they should. It's not very deep, but it works. Tommy Lee Jones plays Agent J, a man who has given up his earthly identity to keep the world safe from those who would do us harm.

Will Smith's character gets involved when he chases after a criminal that happens to be an alien in disguise. He impresses the Agency and is recruited into its ranks as Agent K. He doesn't quite believe it at first, but after being a cop in New York, nothing really suprises him. J and K's first assignment is to check out the mysterious crash of an illegal alien ship. It's turns out their new "friend" has bigger plans than a joyride to Earth. In order to blend in, this creature steals the skin of a local farmer on his search to find a missing galaxy which will allow his family to rule the cosmos. Vincent D'Onofrio as the alien trapped in the farmer's skin is amazingly funny. He totally captures the physicality of the role in a weird and extremely gross way. It's a truly unique and impressive performance. Since he has nothing to lose, the alien leaves a swath of destruction wherever he goes.

His trail leads to the local morgue where our heroes meet up with Linda Fiorentino, who plays a forensic scientist. She gets more than she bargains for by hanging out with our boys. There's no reason to worry with J and K on the case. With J's experience and K's pure animal machismos, the Earth is made safe from giant evil bugs. The ending is one you have to see to believe with special effects that make everything worthwhile. Though the writing is good and the story entertaining, it's really the chemistry between Smith and Jones that makes this film great. Their styles are on opposite ends of the spectrum and yet they complement each other perfectly. Smith helps make Jones funny and Jones gives Smith a sort of maturity that makes him more credible as actor. Rip Torn's dry sense of humor is the lovely icing on a very sweet cake. Fiorentino gets great exposure with this role, but isn't really given much to do, which is a shame. She holds her own and has some winning moments, so all is not lost.

The other aspect that elevates this trifle to A-list territory is the production design. The toys (i.e. guns and car) are way cool. Sonnenfeld clearly pulled out all the stops to make the look and feel futuristic, yet believable. From the sets to the special effects, everything is 100% awesome. D'Onofrio's makeup is spectacularly gruesome. The skin seems to be oozing off the creature as it decomposes. Granted the performance sells it, but he sure had a lot of help. What ultimately makes this a great film is the pacing and the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Sonnenfeld, et al, know this is just for fun and never bring the vibe down with long expositions or useless information. This is a flick about kicking alien ass. Period, exclamation point. I expect nothing less from a summer movie, though they rarely deliver such a complete and enjoyable package.

"This has GOT to be a nine-point-oh on my weird-shit-o-meter."

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