It’s been 15 years since Men in Black and 10 since the follow-up film.
We quit connecting with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agents J and K during the dull sequel. They quit connecting with each other in Men in Black III.
Boris the Animal is imprisoned on the moon in the present. He escapes and goes back in time to kill Agent K because K shot off his arm, thwarted his species’ Earth invasion and caused them to go extinct. The day of the escape, Agent J inexplicably struggles with K’s attitude and mindset. Plot inferences say that while they have been partners for 15 years, they barely know each other.
It’s a surprise and doesn’t really fit. They seemed like pretty good pals in versions one and two.
The day after Boris the Animal escapes his moon prison, J wakes up to find K died 40 years in the past and that Boris’ race is still living and now invading the Earth.
To save his partner and the Earth, J travels back to 1969 and to perform a few funny bits. Too few. A black man sans afro wearing an all-black suit in 1969 does have potential. So dotting the landscape is a mildly funny piece with some racist cops and a couple more quick jokes. They’re wasted as is the potential fun of a visit to avant-garde artist Andy Warhol. You do, however, meet Griffin, a trippy character who can simultaneously see all possibilities of the future in an instant.
What you won’t find in the past — or the present — is the humor and originality of the original. There is a natural repartee between Smith and Jones in the first two films. Zero chemistry exists between the two stars in the third. Their early interactions in the slow-to-build plot are lifeless.
Jermaine Clement’s Boris isn’t that interesting a villain. Other than some charming interactions with Michael Stuhlbarg’s Griffin, the film sorely misses the fun interactions between the two agents and an Earth full of unseen and unnoticed aliens.
The only reason director Barry Sonnenfeld — who did the first two flicks — and the main writer out of five, David Koepp (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) manage to make this remotely worth watching is Josh Brolin’s dead-on impersonation of a young Tommy Lee Jones. From the dust-dry voice to the walk and mannerisms, Brolin nails the part.
Of the three major actors, Brolin seems to be the only one having some fun. He does, but you won’t.
There is also a major plot flaw that those with knowledge of our space exploits will quickly grasp. To save the life of his friend and the planet, Smith’s Agent J travels back to the space launch that will put the first men on the Moon. The plot puts the event at Cape Canaveral in July 1969.
When President John Kennedy was assassinated, President Lyndon Johnson renamed Cape Canaveral to honor the late president’s contributions to our space program. At the time of the moon-walk launch, Cape Canaveral was still named Cape Kennedy. It's a small complaint and a minor glitch in a movie full of them.
It’s a time-travel movie, and those are often flawed and rarely a good idea. Time-travel flicks have those niggling, unsolvable twists that convolute the plot. This one is no exception. By the time the credits roll, Men in Black III makes you wish you, too, could travel back in time, skip the movie and see the original for the first time.
Finally. After more than a century of movies, someone — me — has come up with a time-travel movie idea that actually makes sense.
Mr. Movie rating: 3 stars
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Bill Hader, Emma Thompson, Alice Eve, Jermaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It is playing at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.