Will Smith has saved the world time and again, but in the “Men in Black” movies he does it with Tommy Lee Jones.
It’s their prickly chemistry that keeps these movies humming, even one as hectic and witless as 2002’s “Men in Black 2.”
No one was waiting for a third one, but here they are — along with director Barry Sonnenfeld and ingenious alien designer Rick Baker — 10 years later. Except Jones is missing in action for half the picture.
Intergalactic jellyfish are poised to invade Earth, but when Agent J (Smith) gets to the office, his new boss, Agent O (Emma Thompson), informs him that his partner of 15 years, Agent K (Jones) has been dead for 40 years.
It’s all the dastardly doings of the last living Boglodite, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement). Boris has broken out of lunar lockup and traveled back in time to 1969 to kill Agent K, who took the Animal’s arm and annihilated his people.
Agent J travels back in time to save his stoic partner, who is now played, very credibly, by Josh Brolin.
Cue the “Mad Men” nostalgia, as Agent J visits Men in Black headquarters circa 1969, when the memory-wiping neuralyzer looked like an MRI machine, Agent O (now played by Alice Eve) was in the secretarial pool, and they did indeed have jet packs.
The filmmakers, among them credited screenwriter Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder”), acknowledge the missing chemistry between Smith and Brolin by giving the agents a third wheel, a soft-spoken clairvoyant played by Michael Stuhlbarg (“A Serious Man”) who is forever anxious about the future’s possible permutations. They pick him up at a party at Andy Warhol’s Factory, the most out-of-this-world joint this side of Cape Canaveral. Bill Hader’s Warhol is another bright spot in this uneven comedy.
An imposing biker with black goggles in his eye sockets and a quill-shooting palm, Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”) is a more menacing villain than Lara Flynn Boyle’s Victoria’s Secret model in “Men in Black 2.” But this talented comic is upstaged by Baker’s imaginative character design and ignored by the screenplay.
Which, by the way, makes little sense. Boris travels back to 1969 to kill Agent K, and then waits 40 years to invade Earth? How did Agent J become an agent if he wasn’t recruited by Agent K?
Logic — and a coherent space-time continuum — is of little interest to the filmmakers, who are more interested in developing Agent J’s “character arc.” Agent J goes searching for Agent K but finds himself.
It may sound good as a screenwriter’s pitch, but it’s not much fun to watch.
‘Men in Black 3’ * *
After a subway-tunneling space worm and a shoot-out in a Chinese restaurant, the glasses are unnecessary.
What others are saying • Christy Lemire, The Associated Press:
“It feels hacky, choppy and — worst of all — just not that funny. And of course, it’s in 3-D for no discernible artistic or narrative reason.”• Lou Lumenick, The New York Post:
“For a very belated, obscenely expensive second sequel that perhaps nobody — except accountants at drowning-in-red-ink Sony — was clamoring for, ‘Men in Black 3’ is a reasonably crowd-pleasing and painless experience.”• Nick Pinkerton, Village Voice:
“It’s all quite ‘Back to the Future,’ down to the involvement of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and a soundtrack theme song titled ‘Back in Time,’ with Miami rapper Pitbull replacing Huey Lewis and the News.”