STARRING: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Rip Torn, Lara Flynn Boyle, Johnny Knoxville, Rosario Dawson, Tony Shalhoub, Patrick Warburton

2002, 88 Minutes, Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

In my review of the previous Will Smith comedy also directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (namely the dismal Wild Wild West) I wrote about how the cinema I was in turned into a "laugh-free zone." The same couldn't exactly be said of Men in Black II: after all, I heard some polite chuckling from the audience . . . in about three places in the entire movie!

I won't make any remarks about how I can't remember anyone clamoring for a second Men in Black movie, because apparently this largely pointless sequel made big bucks at the American box office during its opening weekend. Okay, lots of people like myself recall the original with some fondness and, after having seen the Region 1 DVD recently, I ended up liking it even more than I did upon its initial release.

So I don't know whether bad word of mouth kicked in afterwards to dampen the film's box office takings, but I was rather reluctant to go see Men in Black II after hearing some very poor things about it. This is not just from critics (who can be, erm, too critical, especially towards genre efforts), but regular cinemagoers.

They are unfortunately all correct: Men in Black II, while not as incredibly bad as some people that I have spoken to have claimed, is a huge disappointment. It simply isn't as funny or vibrant as the original, rehashing a lot of material and ideas that will seem familiar to people whom have seen the original without adding anything new or fresh. If you hadn't seen the original film, then I suppose a lot of it will simply be bewildering since Men in Black II simply doesn't explain any of its plot premises. Be warned.

Despite the lack of serious laughs, the film at least wastes no time and is fast-paced. Some of the alien designs are fun and inventive, the special effects are okay and Danny Elfman's music score is adequate.

But the lead cast seems lifeless and tired. Are they in it just for the money? A silly question since the movie's attitude is best summed up by Tommy Lee Jones' hangdog expression (is it just me or is he beginning to resemble Walter Matthau?): tired and drained of energy . . .

The plot? Inconsequential really.

All you need to know is that the earth is threatened with destruction again by a shape-shifting alien (heard any of this before?) and the Tommy Lee Jones character is dragged from "retirement" as a postal worker. No doubt a third Men in Black movie is probably in the works considering the big bucks this installment made, but one can only wonder about the amount of goodwill towards this franchise that will remain after this lackluster installment.



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