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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Men in Black (review)

Why Is There a Watermelon There?

Okay, I have a confession to make: I saw Men in Black (starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith) in the movies last summer. Every other movie I’ve discussed here has been new to me — but I feel justified in cheating just this once. I had intended to see Men in Black again on the big screen but never got around to it. (I felt another viewing was a necessity because I was laughing so hard the first time around that I missed half the jokes.) And guess what? I have every intention of seeing it many more times.
Simplifying things a bit: Agents K and J (Jones and Smith) work for a supersecret government agency called MIB, which monitors alien activity on Earth. See, Earth is a sort of political refuge for aliens out of favor at home — and most of them, disguised as humans, hang out right in Manhattan. (“Ah, cab drivers,” J says. “Not as many as you’d think,” K replies.) MIB are able to manipulate the memories of the real humans who have inadvertent contact with undisguised aliens. As K and J’s boss, Z (Rip Torn) says, “We’re ‘them,’ we’re ‘they,’ we are the men in black.”

Men in Black was even better the second time around. This is a movie made for video — or even for the ultraclarity of laserdisc. (Wish I had me one of those… Ya listenin’, Santa?) You need to rewind and freeze-frame to catch all the sight gags happening in the background and listen again for the throwaway lines. (What was that flavor of coffee the lanky little aliens said they were drinking?)

If you recognize the source of the headline on this page, then you’ve already guessed that I’m placing Men in Black in the class of that other unworldly cool movie, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eight Dimension. Buckaroo Banzai was way ahead of its time in 1984, post-ironic before the world ever got to irony, with its deadpan amalgam of pop paranormal bulldinky. Men in Black, on the other hand, is perfectly in tune with the post-hip late ’90s. (Of course tabloids are the place for real news on ETs. Of course that’s why they held the ’64 World’s Fair in Queens.)

I often feel like I see jokes coming a mile away in things purported to be comedies. In Men in Black, they snuck up behind me and tickled me — I love that. Even better, I’m still amused by the movie when I’ve got the dialog memorized. I love that, too.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for language and sci-fi violence

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb

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