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[whitespace] Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones
Scum Like It Hot: Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones take on the extraterrestrial troublemakers all over again in 'Men in Black II.'

Alias Smith and Jones

'Men in Black II' can't shake sequelitis

By Richard von Busack

HERE'S ANOTHER MOVIE of which it can be said, "The part with the talking dog was the best." The novelty song "Who Let the Dogs Out?" may be the kind of anthem that would stick in Homer Simpson's head, but when the talking alien dog barks along to its chorus, well, that's entertainment. Men in Black II has the consistency of headcheese--little bits of scraps and filler, chunks of odds and ends, are forced together into a loaf. In its gelatinous, played-out mass, though, there are tasty shreds: such as a scene of a small world of furry creatures who have built a civilization around a video-store rental card. It's the typical mandatory sequel and runs 88 minutes until the end credits, when Will Smith's rapping drives you straight out of the theater, as if chasing you with a broom.

The movie's high point of wit comes at the beginning. An inexpensive syndicated TV true-life mystery show (hosted by Peter Graves) tells the backstory of a mysterious alien visitation, restaged with Ed Wood-level effects. This backstory sets up the arrival of a multitentacled extraterrestrial named Serleena, played by Lara Flynn Boyle, who gets her anorexia joke out of the way within her first few minutes onscreen. To combat this female alien menace, Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) is brought out of retirement and given his memory back. Accompanying him and Agent Jay (Will Smith) is a civilian witness to an alien murder, Laura (Rosario Dawson).

Much of Men in Black II feels like something watched on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here are hordes of aliens, which, like the demons on Buffy, are so grotesque they're comedic. Barry Sonnenfeld directs with his usual overplayed slapstick; the script is co-written by Robert Gordon (Galaxy Quest) and Barry Fanaro (TV's The Secret Diaries of Desmond Pfeiffer). And as Mark Borchardt said in American Movie, "Here's where the inevitable becomes evitable." Men in Black II is sometimes as clever as Galaxy Quest but often as terrible as Desmond Pfeiffer. One problem here is a misogynist tone. Boyle's unimpressive villainy is met by Rip Torn (as Zed, the Men in Black's leader) with that bald-faced lechery gag Torn's worked for years. The film ends in a locker room, and mostly the talk about women didn't get much higher than that. Women are supposed to be from Venus, or something.

The movie's warmest moment shows us Jones, solo, as "his brain reboots" after a memory-rebuilding session. He's standing on a New York street corner, watching odd East Village types, including a pair of Christmas-light-covered tandem-bike riders. He looks down at his feet and sees a bug and is about to crush it but decides against it. The bug says, "Damned decent of you," and walks on, and Jones looks at the stars, a slow smile growing. Other than that you settle for the singing dog performing "I Will Survive."

Men in Black II (PG-13; 88 min.), directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, written by Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro, photographed by Greg Gardiner and starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, plays valleywide.

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From the July 4-10, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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