Review of Men in Black II

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Will Smith is back to reprise his role as Agent J who seeks out Tommy Lee Jones' character Agent K in order to restore his memory.
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Movie Reviews: "Men in Black II"

-- Rating: PG-13 (sci-fi action violence, some provocative humor)
Length: 88 minutes
Release Date: July 3, 2002
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Genre: Sci-Fi/Comedy

After the original "Men in Black" brought in a box office haul of nearly $600 million in 1997, a sequel was not a matter of if, but when. Unfortunately, some bickering over salaries and profit sharing repeatedly pushed back the new film's production. Finally, after 5 years, "Men in Black II" was released.

The film begins with Agent Jay (Will Smith) still fighting the good fight and policing aliens to keep the planet safe. He is joined by his new partner, Frank (voice of Tim Blaney), whom you might remember as the pug dog from the original film. Frank has a gruff voice and delivers plenty of one-liners, most of which are hilarious. The two partners drive around in a souped-up Mercedes, a far cry from the boxy Ford that belonged to Jay's former partner, Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones).

Meanwhile, Agent Kay has retired from MIB, opting to get his memory wiped and take a mundane job at a rural post office. On the outside, it seems like he is leading a happy and well-adjusted life, but closeup shots reveal that Kay is feeling a little bit discombobulated. He wants to be happy with his new life, but there is clearly something missing. It is as if he misses the aliens and the action of his old job, even though he doesn't remember any of it.

That is where Agent Jay comes in. He is sent to investigate the death of a pizza parlor owner at the hands of the evil Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle). Serleena is looking for something called the Light of Zartha, which she believed the owner of the pizza place had. The only witness to the crime is employee Laura (Rosario Dawson), to whom Agent Jay takes an immediate shine.

After some flirtation, Jay reluctantly leaves Laura behind to report to MIB director Zed (Rip Torn) to ask about the Light of Zartha. Zed seems concerned, because the only person who really knew anything about this mysterious light is Agent Kay, who had his memory wiped.

Jay must find Kay, reinstate his memory and find the Light of Zartha before Serleena does. It takes a lot of convincing to get Kay to go with him to New York, where he believes a contraption being hidden by Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub) can help restore his memory. After a series of especially creative special effects, the deed is done and Kay is finally Jay's partner again.

Even with 5 years between the two films, stars Smith and Jones pick up right where they left off. The biggest thing that made the original "Men in Black" fun was the off-the-charts chemistry between the two leads. The characters come from entirely different backgrounds and have a huge age gap between them. Yet somehow, Smith's easy charm and Jones's straight man shtick work together perfectly. These two could probably take turns reading the phone book out loud and make it sound entertaining.

Director Sonnenfeld, who also helmed the first film, is back for more action. Unlike the 1997 original, this one is very heavily dependent on special effects, which was a conscious choice for Sonnenfeld. Sequels have to up the ante, and Sonnenfeld accomplished this with more and crazier special effects. The choice works largely because the effects enhance the action rather than distracting from it. The computer-generated images (CGI) are impressive, showing off the advances in technology since the original film came out.

It would have been easy for the producers of the original to just trot out the same storyline for "Men in Black II." Instead, they gave fans a whole new set of ideas to play with, which is no small feat. That Sonnenfeld and screenwriters Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro chose to put so much work into the film is a testament to their work ethic and dedication to giving fans a good final product.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars