Review: “Men in Black II”

Much like Sonnenfeld’s “The Addams Family” adaptation, 1997’s “Men in Black” was overall a fun and light piece of escapism – a quirkly dark comedy with sci-fi overtones, interesting characters and good use of FX however the gist of the main story never seemd to click and there was a nagging problematic feeling overall which kept it from becoming a modern fantasy classic like “Ghostbusters”. Now comes the sequel which like “Addams Family Values”, is more of the same though a lot less humourous. The story is tighter and the initial concept more sketched out, but overall there’s a more generic and “we’ve done this before” sense to the proceedings and a real stifled feeling to the gags.

The one thing this movie has going for it is chemistry and both Smith and Jones work extremely well together onscreen, forming one of those rare action-comedy partnerships that work. The role reversal this time around though means the jokes aren’t as inherently funny, but Jones gets to do some better dramatic work. Like the first one, Smith is stuck with some cheesy one-liners (“I drive…the new hotness” comes to mind) but in early stages is helped along by the great Frank the Pug dog who pretty much steals the movie with some of the film’s best lines even though he’s a little overused.

Boyle on the other hand isn’t so crash hot. She does get one of the film’s better sight gags, and in many ways does look like an alien (with that porcelain doll white skin and anorexic appearance), nevertheless she sadly doesn’t come with the right amount of menace or dark humour required for such a role. As “Jackass” isn’t shown here, this was my first viewing of Knoxville and the guy does a pretty good job as Serleena’s two-head alien henchman, but what the hell happens to him, about 2/3 of the way through the movie he disappears without any explanation. Tony Shaloub is fun to have back but here he’s disappointing compared to the previous flick. As much as Rosario Dawson looks great and has some fun scenes with the worms, there’s sadly not enough development for her character with everything about her subplot feeling rushed.

The FX vary throughout, though they remain pretty similar to the first. Serleena’s giant vines look awfully CG, despite the fact she comes in a pretty well-designed spaceship. There’s a quite cool sequence involving the giant Dune-like worm called Jeffrey at the start, and whilst a few gags are retreads (the celebs as aliens) they still work whether it be Peter Graves spoofing his Unsolved Mysteries days, to Michael Jackson poking fun at himself. Rick Baker’s alien creations prove just as eye catching if not more so than the first one, whilst the drinking/smoking worms make a fun return and a new race of locker creatures almost steal the show.

The action varies from cool-looking but unneeded (eg. the flushing sequence) to a decent but uninspired arial battle scene through the streets of NYC. At 88 minutes though there’s next to no time to develop a story which is where the film’s main problem lies. Some great and inventive ideas are here but they’re hung on a truly bare bones plot and thin characterisation. Rip Torn almost seems to be spoofing himself from the first film, and even the coda feels somewhat out of place. MIB2 falls sadly quite a bit behind its predecessor. Flashy visuals and good performances are what keep this baby moving to result in a decent but rather ordinary piece of entertainment.