By Richard von Busack
It’s been a decade since Men in Black II; the world must have got more xenophobic since then. In Men in Black III, (Men in Black III tickets and showtimes here) Will Smith’s Agent J complains of the weirdness of schwarma and the unidentifiable filth to be found in the back of a Chinese restaurant. This last joke is only there so that we can have an alien only pretending to be Chinese, saying “so solly,” as if that makes it funnier.
All of this confusing foreign grub is contrasted to the mentally healing power of a slice of American pie. A ref to Twin Peaks? Or a symbol of a franchise turning aged and cranky?
Men in Black 3 commences with the hairy one-armed Boris the Animal (New Zealand’s Jermaine Clement) breaking from a top-security jail and heading to settle an old score with Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones).
Meanwhile, the never more fey Agent J seeks paternal male-love from his partner. Not a chance, since Tommy Lee is too Texan.
J time-hops 1969 to head off an alien invasion and meet up with the younger K. (Josh Brolin, doing a fine pickup of Jones’ mannerisms). The agents are aided by Griffin, an alien bag-gentleman who sees in five dimensions. He’s played by Michael Stuhlbarg of A Serious Man, Robin Williamsing it, outfitted with layers of clothing, a yarn hat, bulgy blue contact lenses and a blessed-out grin.
A joke or two stands out, such as J’s mid-air detour through 1929 on his way to 1969. It’s not a really immersive version of the past. If you don’t count the references to the “Miracle Mets” of that year’s baseball season, maybe the best worked instance of nostalgia is a scene of the Men in Black headquarters in 1969, where aliens are waiting and filling out forms. Rick Baker, the creature designer, includes some famous monsters of old-school sci-fi loitering in the crowd shots.
The anachronisms stand out: the finale is set at Cape Canaveral (instead of Cape Kennedy, as it was in ’69). J and K attend a party at Warhol’s Factory where the password is “Janis Joplin” (instead of “Hedy Lamarr” which would be more like it); this is set a year after that Factory closed. The loft has a welcome-to-all banner on the outside, as if the private studio were a carpet warehouse.
Men in Black 3 is seriously without women, even as eye-candy. If you show up late, you’ll miss the only serious cheesecake: the opening scenes’ use of a big-breasted moll (Nicole Scherzinger) who enters carrying a jiggling cake—a bad kind of tribute to Jayne Mansfield’s milk-bottle strut in The Girl Can’t Help It. And Emma Thompson (with Alice Eve as her younger self) is barely there long enough to be a beard for the alphabetized pair of partners.
There’s only so much male bonding a man can stand. And considering the threat of alien invasion, MIB III is undervillaned. It must be hard work writing professional wrestler/super villain threats. The Animal is left with lines like “Let’s agree to disagree!” and “Arrggh!”