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Men in Black
  [rating: 3½ of 4 stars]movie review by Gary Johnson

Go to:
the official web site for Men In Black

They work for a highly-funded yet unofficial government agency. They work in secret. They are our best, last, and only line of defense when close encounters get ugly. They are the Men in Black.


Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are the Men in Black.

Sony Pictures Entertainment Co. All rights reserved.)

Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith star in this hilarious sci-fi/comedy from director Barry Sonnenfeld, the same man responsible for The Addams Family and Get Shorty. Unlike so many of this summer's blockbuster action movies (Con Air, Face/Off, The Lost World, etc.), Men in Black doesn't use a sledgehammer approach. Instead Men in Black develops its story slowly and lets us get to know the characters played by Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. In the process, the movie becomes a comedy first and a special effects movie second. You'll still get loads of nifty aliens and flying saucers, but director Sonnenfeld recognizes the absurdity of the premise and goes for laughs, unlike, say Independence Day, which was really a comedy but the filmmakers didn't know it. At the same time, he keeps the focus on a relatively small group of characters that we enjoy getting to know, unlike Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!, which inundated us with characters and situations and failed to give us anyone we could really care about. Whereas Mars Attacks! adopted a snide, bratty approach, Men in Black gives us a warm and optimistic yet irreverent story.

Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, keeping our country safe.

Sony Pictures Entertainment Co. All rights reserved.)

Tommy Lee Jones plays a world-weary founding member of MiB. He's hoping to recruit and train a new partner when he runs into NYPD officer James Edwards (Will Smith) during a routine encounter with an alien. He thinks the kid might have the right stuff and (after zapping Smith's memory with a pen-sized neural neutralizer, one of the great running gags in the movie) he invites him to drop by the MiB Headquarters. And before he knows it, Smith agrees to give up all his worldly contacts in return for a career dealing with extraterrestrial aliens.

Men in Black tells us that up to 1,500 aliens are living on earth. "Most of them," says Jones, " are decent enough, just trying to earn a living, " disguised as farmers or shop owners. But occasionally, a troublemaker comes along, and then the Men in Black spring into action. To keep track of new aliens, Jones reads supermarket tabloids: "Best investigative journalism on the planet." After reading about a flying saucer crash, Jones and Smith investigate the crash site and determine that a particularly nasty variety of alien is now on the loose. In a gruesomely funny development, the alien kills a farmer and wears his skin as a disguise--but the skin is always twisted so that he looks lumpy. (Vincent D'Onofrio, who played an unstable private in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, plays the alien.)

Will Smith, Rip Torn, and Tommy Lee Jones at the MiB Headquarters.

(©1997 Sony Pictures Entertainment Co. All rights reserved.)

Sonnenfeld gives Men in Black a wonderfully wacky atmosphere where it becomes totally plausible that aliens are living among us (an altogether convincing idea if you've ever walked the streets of New York). He creates a world where humans don't have the faintest idea what's going on. Around them, the universe threatens to self-destruct--and our only line of defense is the Men in Black.

Unlike so many of this summer's movies, Men in Black works best in its quieter scenes, such as a visit to a pawn shop, which is actually a front for an alien gun shop (run by Tony Shalhoub of the NBC sitcom Wings) or a trip to the morgue, where the head coroner (Linda Fiorentino in a wonderfully funny performance) keeps running into alien corpses. Jones uses the neural neutralizer on her so often that Smith starts worrying about brain damage.

The movie's big conclusion seems a bit rushed and it never quite hits the peak it's aiming for, but all the smaller scenes more than compensate. Or maybe I'm just conditioned by all the big blockbusters to expect half a dozen climaxes in a movie instead of just one. But whatever the case, Men in Black is an absolute revelation, a marvelously witty movie that plays fast and loose with the same territory mined in much more serious terms by the Fox TV series The X Files.

Go to Men in Black Web site

Warner Brothers Web site

A Columbia Presentation
An Amblin Entertainment Production


KTommy Lee Jones
JWill Smith
LaurelLinda Fiorentino
EdgarVincent D'Onofrio
ZedRip Torn
JeebsTony Shalhoub
BeatriceSiobhan Fallon
Directed byBarry Sonnenfeld
Produced byWalter F. Parkes
Laurie MacDonald
Screen Story and
Screenplay by
Ed Solomon
Director of PhotographyDon Peterman
Production DesignerBo Welch
ComposerDanny Elfman
Film EditorJim Miller
Costume DesignerMary E. Vogt
Visual Effects SupervisorEric Brevig
Alien Make-Up EffectsRick Baker
Co-ProducerGraham Place
Executive ProducersSteven Spielberg
Based on the Malibu
Comic by
Lowell Cunningham
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