A Comic Book That Works on Film
Men In Black Survives Intact From UFO Legend to Comic Book to Guaranteed Summer Blockbuster
(This review originally appeared in the June 26-July 2, 1997 Long Island Voice.)
To find out about the Men In Black comic book, read MIB: Savoring A Comic Many Missed.A Comic Many Missed.
Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels
Saying that Barry Sonnenfeld, the director of the Men in Black, is god of film adaptations sounds like hyperbole and could get me in trouble with God but Im beginning to believe it. Seriously, he did a good job with The Addams Family (OK, it was more a series of vignettes than a script but the vignettes were perfect), an excellent job with Addams Family Values and hit one out of the ballpark with Get Shorty (which wasnt easy since Elmore Leonard probably has the record for bad movies made from good books). MIB continues the streak.
"The men in black," in case you dont know, are a latter 20th-century legend that grew out of UFO lore. Supposedly, any time there was hard evidence of UFOs, these nondescript men in identical black suits would drive up in a black car and before you could blink, the evidence was gone and no one remembered much. Lowell Cunningham took the legend and turned it into an obscure comic book about government agents who took care of the weird stuff no one else could to guarantee the publics safety and sanity. They had ultimate authority and virtually unlimited resources. While the comic dealt with aliens, it also broadened the scope of their authority a great deal.
MIB is much more grounded in UFO lore, but it still works. The basic idea is that aliens are indeed living among us, primarily alien political refugees disguised as earthlings. If someone acts strange, they might be an alien. The MIB process these aliens (kind of intergalactic INS), monitor their activities on Earth and protect humans from any possible knowledge of it if necessary, with the help of a neuralyzer to wipe their memory.
Tommy Lee Jones stars as K, a seasoned, dead serious agent who encounters NYPD officer James Edwards (Will Smith) after James tries to arrest an alien disguised as human. Needless to say, James is recruited to be agent J just as a race of alien bugs try to steal something from another alien refugee, imperiling the earth in the process.
The movie is so funny thatd Id pay to see it again to catch parts the audience laughed too loud for me to catch except Im sure it will happen again. Ill have to wait for video and buy it. Like the Addams Family films and Get Shorty, J, K and company arent making jokes or trying to be funny (well, except for some comments from Agent J). They play it completely straight, but the movies hysterical. I particularly loved some of the explanations for various things on Earth, including people. Pay attention when they pop up a list of a few "resident aliens."
Jones and Smith play off each other nicely. Part of its just a good script, part of it is the usual younger/older-opposites work thing, but mostly its chemistry. I like Chris ODonnell, who was originally going to play J, but now, I cant imagine anyone other than Smith as J to Jones K. I was only disappointed in one thing I cant say, but it makes perfect sense in context of the story.
Linda Fiorentino costars as Dr. Laurel Weaver, deputy medical examiner for New York City. Its nice to see her in a role as something other than the man-eating femme fatale she was in The Last Seduction or Jade. Here, shes a real rarity: a three-dimensional woman whos smart, funny and competent. If only they would stop neuralyzing her.
The special effects were well done, but other than the aliens, there were less special effects than youd think for a film of this type. Actually, thats wrong. The special effects were there, but almost matter of fact, which is utterly appropriate considering the MIBs blasť attitude.
I cant say much else with out giving specific situations and/or plot twists and this movie definitely shouldnt be ruined for anyone. Go see it. Its a blast, but dont be surprised if you dont remember it later. Its for your own good.
(A Columbia Pictures release. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.)
Review © 1997 Long Island Voice.