Combustible Celluloid
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With: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mike Colter, Nicole Scherzinger, Michael Chernus, Alice Eve, David Rasche, Keone Young, Bill Hader
Written by: Etan Cohen
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content
Running Time: 103
Date: 05/14/2012

Men in Black 3 (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Keeping up with Jones

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The original Men in Black was an inspired summer popcorn movie. It led with its characters, Agent Jay (Will Smith), who was fleet of foot and mouth, and Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), with a countenance like granite and a delivery like barbed wire. They clashed with and complimented one another beautifully. The tricky visual effects came next, never overshadowing the sublime character chemistry.

Since then, the filmmakers haven't quite achieved the same balance. Men in Black II went bigger, louder, and stupider, and now Men in Black 3 goes the opposite direction. It tries for more character interaction and depth, but things like plot, the villain, the love interest, and conflict come up a bit short.

Fourteen years after their first adventure, Kay and Jay are still bickering, and still at work protecting the earth from alien nasties. One of Kay's old enemies, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from a prison on the moon and seeks revenge. When Jay reports for work, he finds that Kay no longer seems to exist. He must travel back in time to stop Boris from killing Kay, and also save the world from a fresh alien attack.

In the year 1969, Jay meets the younger version of Kay (Josh Brolin). Brolin captures Jones' essence to such a high degree that he falls right into the old chemistry with Smith. It's a smooth transition, and it feels like the old comedy team is back.

But is that enough? Like any so-so Abbott & Costello or Laurel & Hardy movie, Men in Black 3 doesn't put much effort into its plot or anything else outside the main characters. For example, Emma Thompson and Alice Eve appear as the older and younger versions of a potential love interest for Jones, but nothing comes of it. And Clement, one half of the hugely funny "Flight of the Conchords," doesn't seem quite right as Boris; his sneering threats are oddly humor free. Not to mention that nothing really ever feels like it's at stake.

Fortunately, Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) adds a nice touch as a sweet, blue-eyed being that can see all times and dimensions at once. His twinkly joy in watching a crucial Mets game is infectious. And director Barry Sonnenfeld employs his usual slick, silly, offbeat camerawork for a smooth, bright feel.

Yet, the real treat here is that the men in black are back, and that the movie gets out of their way.

Columbia Pictures released a spectacular-looking (and sounding) Blu-ray disc, in time for the holiday season. Extras include a game, a 26-minute making-of documentary and some featurettes, a gag reel, music video, and trailers. The set also includes a DVD and a digital copy.

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