Men in Black (1997)
Men in Black (1997)

Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: July 2nd, 1997 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld Actors: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub, Siobhan Fallon, Mike Nussbaum

 


 

B

eing an adroit cop in New York certainly doesn’t prepare James Edwards (Will Smith) for a particularly unpredictable showdown, during which he catches up to a fleeing criminal who turns out to be an extraterrestrial humanoid. Witnessing the event and recognizing James’ skills, super serious Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) arranges to recruit the young man to work for INS Division 6, a top-secret organization that licenses and monitors all alien activity on Earth. A highly tight-lipped group, they’re informally known as the Men in Black.

Skeptical at first, James is soon introduced to a few of the approximately 1500 otherworldly creatures that freely roam U.S. cities; carefully disguised visitors just trying to make an honest living amidst oblivious human citizens. Deciding to give up his regular life to become Kay’s partner, “Jay” must immediately contend with the newest alien threat: a havoc-loving “bug” that has come to Earth to kill a prince and capture a miniature universe, intending to leave the unwitting planet at the hands of Arquillian annihilative diplomacy. It’s up to Kay and Jay to thwart the bug’s plans and save the world – all in a standard galactic week.

One of the first commercially successful comic book experiments (though not based on the most popular of graphic novels), “Men in Black” possesses a winning combination of movie-magic elements – from compelling sci-fi themes to stunning special effects to laugh-out-loud humor – that keeps the viewer fixated on the blithe plot brimming with clever visuals. An upbeat, memorable score by Danny Elfman starts the film in the right direction, while Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ comedic chemistry fits superbly with their tremendously contrasting personalities (amusingly settling into the good cop/bad cop routine with an extraterrestrial sensibility). Perfectly timed one-liners and gobs of sarcasm pile up around imaginative weapons, quaint supporting roles, and a hysterical memory-erasing device that never gets old.

Choosing to go the route of puppets and primarily practical effects, “Men in Black’s” look remains striking, even after years of advancing computer graphics. “Anything about that seem unusual to you?” inquires Kay after questioning a suspect as Jay is forced to deliver an alien squid baby in the back seat of a car. From human flesh camouflage to communicating with little green men to battling a ferocious mutated cockroach, the marvelous monstrosities and cuddly yet slimy inventions spearhead the film’s twisted uniqueness (borrowing a bit of family-friendly style from “Star Wars”). Though hearty laughs are the first goal, the science-fiction atmosphere and imagery are greatly conducive to the cynicism and wit that fuel the script.

The verbal gags never cease, nor does the action and adventure, as the sharply-dressed duo struggles to piece together mysteries and combat unearthly foes. But what really makes the project so delightfully uncommon is that it never relies on jokes or gimmicks to replace character development and heart – components often sacrificed in favor of wild visuals and elaborate concepts, especially when it comes to fledgling space operas. Despite a silly end title rap by Smith himself, “Men in Black” is a monumentally entertaining, one-of-a-kind experience that went on to receive a Best Picture – Musical or Comedy Golden Globe nomination (a rare feat for sci-fi) as well as the Academy Award for Best Makeup.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10