In “Men in Black III,” Agent J and Agent K are still odd-couple partners, secretly fighting space-alien misbehavior and keeping Earthlings oblivious to their presence.
Their running-feud schtick was fun in the original “Men in Black” (1997), wasn't quite enough to sustain “Men in Black II” (2002) and won't save “Men in Black III.”
J (Will Smith) is the hip, impatient, talkative younger one.
K (Tommy Lee Jones) is the crotchety, taciturn, intense older one.
I like how Smith and Jones play off each other. But a decade is a long time between sequels, and it's an open book whether young movie fans new to the routine will die laughing at their antics, or just chuckle appreciatively, which is what a preview audience did Tuesday.
Lots here is enhanced by inside jokes that work only if you've seen the earlier chapters. “MIB III” began shooting without a finished script and shut down in midproduction to retool. The finished product feels like it could have used a little more work.
The basic concept is not bad. An opening sequence finds Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), a particularly nasty old nemesis of Agent K, breaking out of prison on the moon.
Now that time travel is possible, Boris heads back to 1969 to kill K, who not only imprisoned him but shot off his left arm. Back then, K also got a shield in place to prevent an alien invasion by Boris' tribe, so somebody will have to save the Earth — again — if Boris succeeds in killing K.
J figures out what's happening after a briefing from Agent O (Emma Thompson), who has a long-buried romantic history with Agent K.
This is a little like watching “Back to the Future,” where messing with the past is going to affect the future. A time-travel expert, a loopy dude named Griffin who wears stocking cap (Michael Stuhlbarg, “A Serious Man”), advises J and young K about all the possible outcomes, all the while displaying a quizzical smile.
It should be fun seeing J travel back to the summer of 1969 and try to deal with all the weirdness (racial profiling, Andy Warhol's Factory, the moon launch, etc.), plus younger, happier versions of Agent K (Josh Brolin, very droll at doing a Tommy Lee Jones impression) and Agent O (Alice Eve).
Yet this somehow feels plodding and predictable, despite several action sequences full of digital effects and largely ineffectual 3-D.
It's also completely implausible. Example: NASA and TV networks might notice if four guys are having a major fight high on the moon rocket's support structure just before blastoff.
There's plenty of cleverness in the concept, and it's passable diversion. But it doesn't quite hang together as a movie.
This time, those famous black suits may be mourning a franchise in its death throes.
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