[Screen It]


(2012) (Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi: A secret agent travels back in time to prevent an extraterrestrial from killing his partner back then and thus altering the course of history.
Despite being paired together for more than a decade as partners working for a secret agency designed to hide the fact that extraterrestrials exist on Earth and keep the peace between them and their human counterparts, Agent J (WILL SMITH) knows next to nothing about Agent K (TOMMY LEE JONES). When he tries to find answers from K or their agency boss, Agent O (EMMA THOMPSON), all he gets is that he shouldn't ask questions that have answers he wouldn't want to hear. Accordingly, all he knows is that something in the past changed K into the dour, hardened man that he is today.

J gets the chance to see exactly what that was when Boris the Animal (JEMAINE CLEMENT), an extraterrestrial assassin, escapes from his lunar prison. Having been sent there decades earlier by K who also took Boris' arm, the alien is determined to change all of that by going back into time and killing K before the arrest. He apparently succeeds, as K disappears and any history about him is rewritten, leaving only J remembering that he formerly lived through the present.

Realizing that means a protective and alien repelling energy field around Earth was never deployed and that a Boglodite invasion is now imminent, J travels back to 1969 to stop Boris from killing K, all too aware that he must avoid his partner's younger self (JOSH BROLIN). With the occasional help of another alien, Griffin (MICHAEL STUHLBARG), who can see all possible futures simultaneously, J unwillingly gets partnered with young K and they set out to find and stop Boris before history is once again changed.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Back in 1997, with Will Smith having successfully transitioned from TV's "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" to bona fide movie star with the success of "Independence Day," the sky seemed the limit for the young actor. Rather than stretch himself too much dramatically, however, he opted to star in yet another sci-fi flick about alien invaders.

But this time it was a comedy and "Men in Black" further cemented Smith's Hollywood A-list status with glowing critical reviews and a worldwide box office take of nearly $600 million (or more than $1 billion in today's dollars). It was a fun, witty and creative take on the old alien invasion flicks of the 1950s, featured a great old couple pairing between Smith and co-star Tommy Lee Jones, and an entertaining mix of humor, special effects, and gross-out material.

After a 5-year hiatus, the inevitable sequel finally arrived. Yet, while "Men in Black 2" also made good money (more than $800 million globally in today's dollars), it was a disappointing follow-up to critics and moviegoers alike. In fact, the running joke was that people wished the films' signature tech tool -- a "neuralyzer" that erases one's memory of what's just been seen with a flash of light from the device -- could have been used on them to make them forget the sequel in favor of only remembering the original.

Another solution would be to build a time machine and go back to sometime before 2002 and either swap out the sequel's script with a better one or simply somehow prevent director Barry Sonnenfeld and company from entertaining the notion of making installment #2. While that's obviously not going to happen, they do say that time heals all wounds, so only time will tell if audiences give the franchise another chance with the imaginatively titled "Men in Black 3."

I mention "time" so much because it's a key factor in this script by Etan Cohen who's opted to deploy time travel as a means of reinvigorating audience goodwill toward the film. In it, a ferocious, one-armed alien villain (Jemaine Clement) has escaped from a lunar prison with the intent of going back several decades into the past to kill Jones' Agent K before he blasts off his arm and sends him to prison. He succeeds, and thus it's up to Smith's Agent J to travel down the same worm hole and prevent that from happening.

Why he simply doesn't go back in time a day to prevent the alien from escaping from the moon is never discussed, which also holds true regarding why he's the only person in the present who realizes his partner is now dead, the protective and alien repelling energy field around the Earth was never deployed and that a Boglodite invasion is imminent.

I know, you can drive yourself crazy trying to make a time travel movie perfectly logical and able to withstand nitpicking and scrutiny (said from experience of having tried just that in a script I once wrote), so it's best to just go with the flow and see where the filmmakers intend to take us. And that would be 1969 Manhattan and Cape Canaveral where most of the pic's action takes place.

With Smith's character now in fish out of water territory, the "Back to the Future" type temporal possibilities would seem endless. For better and worse, Cohen doesn't do much with that aspect aside from having a fun bit with Andy Warhol and to a lesser extent with Smith's character running afoul of some racist white cops in one brief scene.

There is an entertaining angle provided by Michael Stuhlbarg playing an alien who can see all potential future scenarios playing out simultaneously that provides for some fun moments. And Josh Brolin is a hoot playing a younger version of Jones, complete with deadpan expression and southern drawl. But for the most part, it's just scenes of them trying to stop the villain.

Speaking of the latter, and despite good make-up and gross out effects (a critter that comes and goes from an alien mouth-like opening in the villain's palm is particularly "ewww" inducing), the antagonist isn't particularly interesting. The fun in the original was watching the alien inside Vincent D'Onofrio's progressively deteriorating body trying to control just that. Here, there isn't much humor or entertainment in the baddie and that steals a great deal of the film's thunder.

Even so, there are enough creative and witty touches here and there, along with Smith having fun stepping back into the character that the film isn't a total loss. I would have liked to have seen a more imaginative script -- especially considering the premise and all of the possibilities it presents -- but there's enough decent material to warrant a slight recommendation. Nowhere as good as the original but thankfully not as mediocre as the follow-up, "Men in Black 3" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 21, 2012 / Posted May 25, 2012

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