Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Men in Black" Review

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Men in Black" Review

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: July 2, 1997
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfield
Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction

Picture this: two epic actors paired together in an out-of-this-world movie that challenges its audience to suspend disbelief while, at the same time, trying not to die laughing. "Men in Black" was an incredibly popular movie when first released in 1997 and continues to thrill audiences many years later and through the release of follow-ups "Men in Black II" and "Men in Black III." Rumor even has it that there may someday be a fourth offering in this franchise.

Led by Hollywood power hitters Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, "Men in Black" takes viewers on an adventure from the everyday streets of Manhattan to the hallowed halls of a super-secret government organization charged with regulating the conduct of alien species that have come to Earth. Some of these aliens are just trying to eke out a living as cabbies and business owners in the Big Apple, while others seek to change life as Earthlings know it.

Smith portrays James Edwards, an NYPD cop who runs down a perp and finds himself in a situation he can't quite describe and his supervisors don't quite buy. The Feds show up, and Edwards finds himself spending more time than he'd prefer in the company of Agent Kay, who opens his eyes to far more worlds than he ever knew existed. Before long, Officer Edwards becomes Agent Jay and is stuck like a thorn in Agent Kay's side. As Agent Jay, Smith delivers a solid and believable performance, the perfect funnyman to Agent Kay's straight-man deliveries of even the most absurd information.

Senior Agent Kay, played by Tommy Lee Jones, has been there, done that, and filed the report to tell about it. As Jones pulls off his trademark adroit representation of a dour-yet-loveable character, his interplays with Smith remind viewers of a modern-day Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Kay's job is to partner with Jay, bring him into the agency's fold, teach him the ways of the aliens, and keep his cool-even while being slobbered on by a being that would be feared even on its own planet. He does it all with style.

There's trouble brewing on Earth, and Agents Jay and Kay are the last bastion of hope standing between intergalactic terrorists and the peaceful aliens they're here to assassinate. Who cares if an entire planet could be annihilated in the process? The aliens certainly don't. And the bigger problem? The lead bad guy looks just like any other Earthling, having taken possession of the very human body of Edgar, played by Vincent D'Onofrio. As it turns out, Edgar, a man who wasn't terribly pleasant as a human, is even less so when promoting the evil schemes of an alien race.

The two are assisted by the lovely Linda Fiorentino, who turns in a believable performance as a deputy medical examiner and one of the only people who believes Agent Jay's account of his extraterrestrial encounter while Jay was still with the NYPD. Fiorentino's character, Laurel, nearly becomes a late-night snack for the evil Edgar, but never fear: Agents Jay and Kay are there. The danger is neatly averted with the small matter of an exploding-UFO mishap over Shea Stadium as its collateral damage. The tabloids have another headline, Earthlings get to live another day, and, with an ending that raises as many issues as it solves, the audience gets a hint of episodes to come.

"Men in Black" was one of the higher-grossing films of the late 1990s, paying back its total budget in its first two weekends. The movie eventually earned $250 million domestically against a $90 million budget, with another $117 million earned in rentals and $338 million in foreign ticket sales. More notably, "Men in Black" was the second-highest grossing film of 1997, a year dominated by the release of "The Titanic" as well as the competitive "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." Years later, "Men in Black" is still among the hundred top-grossing films of all time.

Critics and audiences agree that "Men in Black" became a comedic sci-fi classic the second it hit the big screen; the passage of time and release of two sequels have proven that out. From the shocking intro sequence, to Will Smith belting out theme the song, "Men in Black," during the final credits, the movie is a fun time on any screen and after any number of previous viewings.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars