This summer's big-budget, all-action blockbusters have been a mixed bunch, with sequels failing to live up to expectations, so it's good to see a film deliver what it promises: loads of action, oodles of snappy one liners, bags of great special effects, and the trendiest outfits this side of Reservoir Dogs or The Blues Brothers. Actually, they're the same outfits as Dogs or Brothers but, as Will Smith says, the MIBs make these duds look good.
Don't expect a deep film, but one that dazzles with its entertainment, pace and style. Here, in no particular order, is what you're treated to:
1) Two extremely likable heroes. Tommy Lee Jones, ultra-efficient, stony-faced and confident; and Will Smith, as smart-arsed, sweet-natured, and irreverent as he was in Independence Day, Bad Boys or anything else really. Sure, both do conform to type, but they contrast brilliantly, with Smith adding to his status as a genuine movie star.
2) Plenty of fun that people brought up on cheap sci-fi will positively lap up. The Men In Black's underground New York HQ is your archetypal '60s/'70s superspy set-up, reminiscent of Shado from the UFO TV series, or SHIELD from Marvel Comics. And, with his fearless hardman confrontations with assorted scary alien monsters, K is more in the spirit of Judge Dredd than Sylvester Stallone ever was.
3) Fantastic special effects. Many of the CGI monsters and other sfx are only up
to the standard we've come to expect of Industrial Light And Magic - which is to say excellent, but not, in this case, ground-breaking - but monster maker Rick Baker (veteran of everything from Star Wars to The Frighteners) does himself proud. Here he's been asked to create not one alien race or monster, but loads of them, and some are incredibly funny and inventive. The bunch of foot-high little fellas who hang around the MIB HQ kitchen are my personal favourites, but each new beastie is a real surprise.
4) A tongue-in-cheek tone: - the film is fully aware of how ridiculous it all is, and lets us in on the joke - that actually works. Batman&Robin was camp, over the top and silly, and I wanted to punch them for it; with Men In Black you applaud it all. Joel Schumacher`s effort could only come across like it was taking the piss out of its poor audience; here, you laugh along.
5) Lots of great gags, many connected with the notion that the 1,500 or so legal aliens living on Earth can be disguised as anyone or anything. For instance, during the course of the movie we discover that the likes of executive producer Steven Spielberg and Sylvester Stallone are really ETs, along with... ah, but I'd hate to spoil the fun. There are also some genuinely funny one-liners - New York cab drivers come in for a fair amount of stick - and very amusing sequences. The segment where a reluctant, slightly confused Will Smith is competing for a place among "the best of the best of the best" against a gang of starch-collared military types is genuine class.
At the end of the day we get a faster-moving Ghostbusters, with superior effects. It's good to see a big movie that doesn't outstay its welcome either, and clocking in at a taut 90 minutes, Men In Black is very short, perhaps too short. But the only real problem is that film takes an intriguing premise and a couple of neat characters, but then doesn't know what to do with them: as with Sonnenfeld's Addams Family ventures, it looks fantastic, and bubbles with wicked asides, but falls down when it has to tell a story. What was the plot of either Addams excursion? I'm damned if I can remember now. What's the story of this one? It's almost as vague - - something to do with a gruesome alien bug monster disguised in the body of an unfortunate redneck, and out to bump off important dignitaries from another alien race. Yes, there is a real threat to Earth, but it's not very understandable, and generates little sense of tension (even the Men In Black's bosses don't appear to be that worried - after all, they only assign two agents to the case). It's also nowhere near as stimulating as the segments that introduce us to the characters. You want Messrs Smith and Jones to do far more than go 12 rounds with a single giant bug-eyed critter now that Sonnenfeld has introduced us to this incredible organisation.
Men In Black is no us-vs-them epic like Independence Day, and I don't think it's a great film exactly - - or even a particularly memorable one. But while it's onscreen, it's bloody enormous fun.
Watch the trailer
A lean, punchy, fast paced, and extremely endearing sci-fi action comedy - basically Ghostbusters with aliens - packed with irreverent jokes, boasting two great central performances, and overloaded with hilarious aliens. The only weakness: there's not much plot, and when it does finally kick in the film slows down a tad.