Saturday, May 19, 2012

Stubs - Men In Black

File:Men in Black Poster.jpg

MEN IN BLACK (1997) Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rip Torn and Tony Shaloub. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Screenplay by Ed Solomon. Based on the Men in Black Marvel comic series by Lowell Cunningham. Produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie McDonald. Run Time: 98. Color. U.S. Science Fiction, Comedy.

It’s summer, which means Hollywood will be coming out with its big blockbusters, several of which will be sequels. So far this summer, it is business as usual. The first big mega film of the year has been Marvel's The Avengers, which is in essence either the ultimate sequel or a film with five prequels depending how you want to look at it. This summer, we’re supposed to line up for Madagascar 3, Batman (the reboot) 3, Ice Age 4, Bourne 4 and Men in Black 3. Lots of new ideas in tinsel town.

Leading up to MIB3, I’ve started to watch its prequels, beginning with the original Men in Black. This was back before Will Smith and family became an entertainment entity all to themselves. He was still the kid from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fresh off his previous summer hit, Independence Day. Tommy Lee Jones’ career had started in the early 70’s playing a Harvard student in Love Story. He had worked pretty steady since then, perhaps the highlight of his career coming with an Academy Award for The Fugitive in 1993.

Teaming Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith together for a big blockbuster must have seemed like not much of a gamble. The film would go on to reap $589 million, which believe me used to be a lot of money, and it would spawn a sequel five years after that and a second sequel ten years after that.

In Men In Black, Jones and Smith play agents K and J respectively, this probably has more to do with their locker assignment at MIB headquarters than anything else. Men In Black is a secret agency without ties to any one government, but manned primarily by Americans and all of the action takes place, true to its Marvel Comic roots, in and around New York City, which is apparently space alien central. The first time, though, we meet K and his then partner Agent D working along the Mexican border. Interrupting a Border Patrol stop, K and D are looking for a particular type of illegal alien. Not one from south of the border but from outer space. In the back of a smuggler’s truck, they find a man who doesn’t speak or understand Spanish.

When one of the border patrol agents gets too close, K has to blast the alien which sends blue gloop everywhere. This is only the first time someone gets glooped; there is more slime in this movie than a Nickelodeon Awards show. Since the border patrol agents know too much, K has to use a neuralyzer to wipe out the memories of the agents and then next to his partner D, who isn’t up to the job any longer.

As a replacement, K convinces Chief Zed (Rip Torn) into letting him pick James Darrell Edwards III (Smith), a New York policeman who singlehandedly runs down an alien criminal on top of the Guggenheim museum after a long chase through the streets of Manhattan. He is trained on the job as they are confronted with the invasion by Edgar the Bug (Vincent D’Onofrio), who has come to Earth to steal the “Galaxy”. In doing so, he kills not only Edgar, a Mid-west farmer whose skin he wears over his own cockroach body, but two Arquillians who are protecting it. Along the way, they pick up Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino), who despite being zapped a couple of times by the neuralyzer, is still helpful to the agents. It is in her morgue that one of the Arquillians, barely still alive in his robot human body, tells the agents that the Galaxy is on Orion’s belt.

The agents and the Bug both figure out that the Orion in question is a cat once owned by the Arquillian and the belt is actually Orion’s collar. But the Bug beats the agents back to the morgue and takes Dr. Weaver along as a snack for the trip back to his home planet.

When the Arquillians learn of what is happening they dispatch a fleet to destroy Earth, rather than let the Galaxy fall into enemy hands. J and K have an hour to stop the Bug from leaving the planet and from stealing the Galaxy. Saving the girl is a secondary idea.

The ending takes place at the site of the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, which was put on to hide the fact that aliens had landed there. The two Observatory Towers, one of a handful of buildings still standing, were actually alien ships, one of which the Bug is going to fly home now that the MIB have his original space ship.

In the end, K jumps inside the Bug to retrieve his weapon and while J distracts him, K blows the Bug up from inside with more slime to go around. But the Bug is not dead and while K tells J that he has trained him not to be his partner, but to be his replacement, the Bug creeps up behind them. They are only saved because Dr. Weaver picks up J’s weapon and blows the Bug away before he can attack.

J neuralyzes K, who returns to civilian life and to the woman he had to leave behind when he joined MIB. Dr. Weaver, now Agent L, is J’s new partner and all seems right with the world for the moment.

In MIB, Will Smith proves again that he can be funny and heroic, traits that would bode well for his career. His films were usually all box office hits, no matter how good they were, until he apparently stopped acting in 2008. He has become a producer (The Karate Kid) and promoter for his children’s movie ambitions. MIB3 will be his first film in front of the camera since that year’s Seven Pounds.

Tommy Lee Jones has continued to act and was in two films in 2011, including Captain America: The First Avenger, and will be in three films this year.

Linda Fiorentino’s career has slowed to a crawl. Her biggest splash had come in 1994’s The Last Seduction, in which she played a sexy femme fatale opposite Bill Pullman and Battleship director, then actor, Peter Berg. She hasn’t appeared on film since 2009’s Once More With Feeling.

The aliens are nightmare fuel if you are the least bit squeamish about insects, as they all seem to be some form or another of that species. But the teaming of Smith and Jones paid off. As mentioned before, the film was a big success at the time.

The film is fun, but not always a laugh riot, to watch, unless you find bug guts funny. There are some funny lines, mostly spoken by Smith, but it is a sort of gross out comedy, having more in common with Ghostbusters than the work of Woody Allen. Still it was smart summer fare at the time and it does hold up very well.

When you watch the film, knowing that there is a sequel or two to follow, you can’t help but wonder why it took so long to put them together. We’ll take a closer look at MIBII next week on this same blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment