movie film review | chris tookey
 
     
     
 

Men In Black

 (PG)
© Columbia Pictures - all rights reserved
     
  Men In Black Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
 
Average Rating
7.25 /10
 
Starring
K .................. Tommy Lee Jones , J .................. Will Smith , Laurel ............. Linda Fiorentino
Full Cast >
 

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Written by: Ed Solomon

 
 
 
Released: 1997
   
Genre: ACTION
COMIC STRIP
ADVENTURE
MONSTER
SERIES
SCIENCE FICTION
COMEDY
   
Origin: US
   
Length: 98
 
 


 

Aliens threaten Earth.

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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A young, fit and extremely dogged New York cop (Will Smith) is surprised to find that the street punk he is chasing can run up the side of tall buildings, has four eyelids, and announces “your world is going to end”.
Smith’s athleticism impresses an older man in a black suit, black tie and shades (Tommy Lee Jones) who tests him for recruitment to his secret elite, then tells him the truth about aliens - not only are they “out there”, they are here.
Some are innocent refugees. Like other immigrants, they are a mixture of good and bad. "There are about 15,000 aliens on the planet, mostly in Manhattan," Jones explains to Smith. "Most are just trying to make a living."
Smith thinks for a second, and the idea suddenly makes sense.
“Cab-drivers,” says Smith.
“Not as many as you’d think,” says Jones.
The aliens are being monitored by a secret group of immigration controllers, the Men in Black, who make sure the aliens obey regulations and keep their identities secret.
In the meantime, a flying saucer has crash-landed near a farmhouse, and a giant cockroach with a sweet tooth and a nasty temper has taken over the body of its owner (Vincent D’Onofrio), with the ease of Luciano Pavarotti cramming himself inside the skin of Jarvis Cocker. He sets about killing humans in the same spirit that humans exterminate cockroaches.
The story gets weirder from there, and involves a galaxy hidden inside a jewel, and another group of aliens threatening to blow up Earth if a deadline isn’t met...
But the plot is just an excuse for some very funny sketches built around the central premise. There are scenes here of inspired silliness, including one where Jones intercepts an illegal alien immigrant posing as an illegal Mexican immigrant (“Put up your hands,” snaps Jones, “and all of your flippers!”).
Oscars aren’t usually handed out for Summer blockbusters, but in a movie which could have easily been dominated by special effects, Tommy Lee Jones gives one of the funniest screen performances of all time.
He is deliriously funny, simply by being humourless, matter-of-fact and world-weary. His air of bitter experience give credibility to the whole ridiculous plot.
Will Smith, a much better actor than this cartoonish character allows him to be (the script gives him no family or social ties whatever), brings the same freshness, vitality and cool he showed in Independence Day. Together, Smith and Jones make a terrific double-act.
A further delight is the look of the film. Director Barry Sonnenfeld (whose directorial credits include The Addams Family films and Get Shorty ) shows why some of the best directors started out as cameramen (he worked on most of the Coen brothers’ best films, including Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing ). He constantly chooses unfamiliar camera angles which seem at first to be pointless, but then reveal themselves to be telling the story in an original and offbeat way.
Production designer Bo Welch - whose excellent credits include The Little Princess - has devised a magnificently naff set for the headquarters of the Men in Black: a Kennedy-era, futuristic building that not only looks wonderfully dated but also carries overtones (as does the story) of The Man From Uncle.
The special effects are by George Lucas’s company, Industrial Light and Magic, and are of Jurassic Park quality. The aliens, designed by Rick Baker, are marvellously funny. Baker is one of the under-publicised heroes of cinema, whose creations include An American Werewolf in London and Gremlins. Thanks to him and Lucas’s team, the whole film has the inspired zaniness of the bar scene in Star Wars.
The story is, admittedly, thin, and the characters hollow. Men in Black is a romp - nothing more - but a hugely enjoyable one. It moves at a cracking pace, and doesn’t outstay its welcome at 98 minutes. Everything about it has style, wit and humour - including the script by Ed Solomon, the under-appreciated author of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
And, though it’s fast food for the brain, it’s more than fun - it makes you look at things anew, as all the best Science Fiction does.
It’s based on two inspired premises. One is that aliens are disguised as humans . The same idea permeated Invasion of the Body Snatchers and They Live! but this is the first film to appreciate the humorous, as well as horrific, side of the idea.
The other premise is that American supermarket tabloids represent the finest traditions of investigative reporting. It’s the “straight” press that hasn’t a clue what’s really going on. All those headlines like “MAN AWAKES FROM 35-YEAR COMA” or “ ALIEN STOLE MY HUSBAND’S SKIN” are true. A similar concept lies behind the cult TV series, The X-Files, but this film realises its comic potential.
The appeal of such ideas is obvious. The notion that the intelligentsia and opinion-formers are stupid and uninformed is enormously attractive to those who are not that intelligent themselves, or feel their intelligence is insufficiently recognised - which covers just about all of us.
And the idea that alien people are already among us is quite obviously true; the only question is how alien?

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