Men In Black

All movie guide rating: 3 out of 5 stars

For his fifth effort as a feature-film director, one-time cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld brought his cartoonish visual style and darkly humorous sensibilities to this adaptation of, appropriately enough, a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi comic book. Will Smith stars as James Darrel Edwards, a New York City cop with an athletic physique and a flippant, anti-authoritarian attitude toward law enforcement. After chasing down a mysterious perpetrator one night who turns out to be an alien, James is recruited by "K" (Tommy Lee Jones), a veteran of a clandestine government agency secretly policing the comings and goings of aliens on planet Earth. Nicknamed the "men in black" for their nondescript uniform of black suit, shoes, tie, and sunglasses, the agents are assigned to recover a bauble that's been stolen by an intergalactic terrorist (Vincent D'Onofrio). It seems the item is none other than the galaxy itself, and its theft has plunged humanity into the center of what's shaping up to become an interstellar war, unless K and his new wisecracking partner, now renamed "J," can stop the bad guy. On their side but somewhat in the dark is a pretty, unflappable city medical examiner (Linda Fiorentino) who has been zapped one too many times by K's ingenious memory-sapping device. Men in Black was a box office smash, inspiring an animated children's television series and a hit soundtrack album that featured a performance by star (and rapper) Smith. -- Karl Williams, All Movie Guide

This imaginative summer comedy from director Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty) was a lot of fun, largely on the strength of Will Smith's engaging performance as the rookie partner of a secret agent (Tommy Lee Jones) assigned to keep tabs on Earth-dwelling extraterrestrials. There's lots of comedy to spare in this bright film, some of the funniest stuff found in the margins of the major action. (A scene with Smith's character being trounced in the distance by a huge alien while Jones questions a witness is a riot.) The inventiveness never lets up, and the cast--including Vincent D'Onofrio doing frighteningly convincing work as an alien occupying a decaying human--hold up their end splendidly. --Tom Keogh

Director Barry Sonnenfeld is known to hit big (The Addams Family, Get Shorty) and miss big (For Love or Money, The Wild Wild West), and Men in Black could have easily gone awry. But from the first notes of the B-movie-esque score by former Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman (Batman, Edward Scissorhands), MIB is a roller coaster ride of fantasy and adventure that doesn't let you off until its final moments. A popcorn movie about a secret service dedicated to policing alien activity on earth, it stars actors as disparate as chummy, all-American Will Smith (Independence Day), feisty old cur Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive), and ironic sex bomb Linda Fiorentino (The Last Seduction). Although the film is produced by Steven Spielberg, MIB really owes more of a debt of inspiration to Ed Wood and Tim Burton than to E.T.

Sonnenfeld's purposefully goofy approach is strongly rooted in vintage cheeseball sci-fi movies that imagined a day when overgrown bugs would plague the earth. In MIB, it's a giant ancestor of the common cockroach that's the problem. The evil alien bug has landed on earth, taken possession of the outer skin of a sexist farmer named Edgar, played by Vincent D'Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket), and is wrecking havoc in Manhattan.

New recruit to the force, Jay (Smith) fumbles along under the steady guidance of jaded old timer Kay (Jones), discovering that the tabloids have been right all along -- aliens are everywhere (some masquerading as Sly Stallone, Dennis Rodman, and your most reviled high school teacher!), and the earth is on the verge of destruction on a regular basis. A too-smart-for-her-own-good doctor at the city morgue (Fiorentino) has a strong supporting role and helps MIB avoid the predictable macho exclusivity.

Funny, irreverent, and with amazing special effects MIB is wholesome family fare with a gothic, hipster edge. But even its grossness (lots of bug spew) is cute, and it carefully avoids offending anyone except perhaps the butt of a few too many jokes -- those already under-appreciated service providers, the lowly exterminator.

The Men in Black DVD is loaded with extra features. It has an audio commentary by director Sonnenfeld and Jones, which you can also watch Mystery Science Theater 3000-style with silhouettes onscreen. Sonnenfeld also writes on the screen like John Madden, though this novelty adds little real information. There is also a deconstruction of the Tunnel scene, which lets you see all the stages in its development; examples of the evolution of some of the characters; four alternate and extended takes of scenes in the film (as well as the bouncing ball scene without the special effects), one of which is particularly fascinating because it shows how the plot was changed after the shoot to simplify it simply by overdubbing some of the aliens' lines; a documentary, The Metamorphosis of MIB, that goes into detail about how the special effects were created; storyboard comparisons; a photo gallery; the Will Smith video for "Men in Black"; and subtitles in French and Spanish and a French audio track.

The two-disc Limited Collector's Edition DVD contains all the features available on the standard edition, plus a technical commentary with Levinson and members of the special effects team; an expanded gallery; a "Scene Editing Workshop," which lets you edit some scenes together yourself; and "Creatures: Concept to Completion," which lets you see the evolution of the characters. This edition also has Cantonese and Mandarin subtitles in addition to French and Spanish. -- Cathay Che

My rating: 5 Stars