July 5, 2002 
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Alien resurrection
Men In Black II is good popcorn entertainment

Nuggehalli Nigam

Five years ago, Barry Sonnenfeld's Men In Black opened to an enthusiastic audience and helped both define and extend the dumb summer blockbuster genre.

Spectacular special effects, extravagantly costumed aliens, non-stop action, handsome men in black suits, zany dialogues --- all combined together in a popcorn entertainment adventure that does not get any better.

The only surprising part about the MIB franchise was why anyone did not think of this recipe for cinematic nirvana before. Mix a portion of science fiction with humour and action, lightly varnish with buddy movie sauce and inter-racial pepper, and you have a mouth-watering feast of a movie.

That is what MIB did, and what MIB II attempts to capitalise on.

MIB was about a secret government agency that monitored and regulated aliens in our midst. The agency was shown as cartoonishly sinister with all its agents donning the proverbial black suits and black glasses. The aliens they interacted with were equally outlandish and humour-inducing, with the action sequences played out more for laughs and effect than any momentous struggle between man and alien. MIB II continues in this vein.

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As sequels go, MIB II does not have a difficult task. Plotline? The last did not have much of a story. Actor characterisation? The last one did not bother with that, so why bother now? Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones played characters that were meant to be caricatures, and MIB II is not burdened with the need to give them any more substance. Special effects, witty dialogues, funny moments? The last one had plenty, and MIB II follows up with an even more expanded version, sort of a Super Mac version of the last movie.

This demonstrates the intention of Barry Sonnenfield to take the winning ingredients of the previous movie and present an expanded prototype of the MIB formula. Add a sexy Lara Flynn Boyle as an alien in Victoria's Secret lingerie, and the audience is sure to make a beeline to the nearest marquee.

A still from MIB MIB II is about an alien called Sarleena (Lara Boyle) who comes down to Earth to search for something called The Light of Zartha (what this means is not relevant to understanding the movie). The Men in Black have to prevent Sarleena from getting the Light and the movie is all about how they go about doing this. Sarleena is aided in her nefarious design by a two headed alien called Scrad/Charlie (depending on which head you are talking to). Scrad and Charlie keep conversing among themselves but do not quite get the laughs the movie makers intended.

MIB II comes across less as a seamlessly constructed movie and more as a montage of some very funny scenes interspersed with some inexplicably drab ones. It's as if the movie continued to be edited while the editor was out taking a break in the studio cafeteria. The first half hour of the movie is its best part.

Will Smith as Kay is still working stolidly at his old job of regulating alien behaviour on Earth. He is introduced in a hilarious altercation with an alien monster in the New York subway. The subway scene is an example of why MIB became popular. It shows its wry humour in how New Yorkers are indifferent to virtually everything (including alien monsters rushing down the subway), and also builds impressively on Will Smith's mixture of boyish bravado and witty dialogues.

Jay soon learns about the latest alien invasion in the form of Sarleena and reluctantly agrees to team up again with his old buddy, Kay (Tommy Lee Jones). Kay has, in the meantime, lost his memory and is working as a postal employee in a sleepy Massachusetts town. Jay approaches him and convinces him to join his crusade in one of the funniest moments in the movie.

Once Kay regains his memory, the movie chugs along pleasantly, blowing up aliens and creating one improbable situation after another,

Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in MIB MIB II's most endearing moments are provided by actors that are not human. One is the fast talking dog called Frank that briefly becomes Jay's colleague in his pursuit of aliens. Singing pop hits like I will survive and, of course, Who let the dogs out, Frank the dog brings the house down.

The other is a group of tiny aliens who live in lockers. These aliens worship any human who chooses to be their God, and though disappointingly marginal to the plot line, they provide the most interesting sci-fi aspect of the movie. The idea of humans making their own kingdoms has been explored in science fiction before and it was intriguing to see this beguiling concept being introduced in this slam-bang movie.

I am not sure if this was a joke or was meant to show something more profound, ie humans are just like these locker aliens, worshipping any God that someone chooses for them. Happily for the movie and its financiers, such ambiguities do not come in the way of some rollicking fun that is as surely incapable of stretching one's grey cells as it is capable of getting the ticket registers to ring merrily.

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