(July 1997, U.S.)
Anyone who knows me well enough in life knows that I'm a truly cynical son-of-a-bitch (my wife will attest to this without hesitation!). And a partial reason for that rather negative outlook on life and especially other people just may have come from the movie MEN IN BLACK. Read this small piece of dialogue from the film and decide for yourself...
James Edwards: "Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it."
Agent Kay: "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it!"
Oh, never in my life did I agree with such descriptive words more! Yes, history may be filled to the brim with brilliant philosophers of the past, but it took Tommy Lee Jones, in my opinion, to nail the human race right on its fucking head!
When I look back on the Summer of 1997, I cannot, for the life of me, remember what attracted me to go and see MEN IN BLACK. Was it because it was based on a popular comic book? Probably not - that reason rarely did anything for me. Was it because I suspected that Will Smith would not only make me laugh, but continue to prove that he had the stuff of a great action star as he had previously done in BAD BOYS (1995) and INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996)? That's possible. Or was it simply because that I'd chosen to take the day off from work on a lovely summer day and decided to go to the movies in the middle of the work day when the theater would be more or less empty? Bingo!!!
MEN IN BLACK is just another Earth vs. Aliens story, yes? Not exactly. In this case, the plot follows two agents of a secret organization called "Men in Black" (M.I.B.) who supervise extraterrestrial life forms living on Earth and hiding their existence from ordinary humans. The agency operates from an underground base at the Tri-Borough Bridge and Tunnel Authority ventilation station in Battery Park in Manhattan and their members often use neuralyzers on witnesses' memories of alien sightings (I wouldn't mind having one of those things!). Agent K (played by Tommy Lee Jones) is the serious, by-the-book agent with no sense of humor that he's aware of whose job it is to find a brand new recruit who can handle the job. Enter New York City police officer-of-the-streets James Edwards, a.k.a. soon-to-be Agent J (played by Will Smith) who's cocky, arrogant and has no respect for authority; in other words, he's perfect for the job! His arrogance is only matched by his outrageous sense of humor that makes Will Smith's performance in such a role as funny and enjoyable as anything a younger Eddie Murphy did back in the 1980s. Suspicious of why extraterrestrials are suddenly leaving our planet, the M.I.B. investigate a farmer named Edgar (played by Vincent D'Onofrio), who's been acting strangely after an alien craft crashed on his farm. Edgar was killed and his skin has been used as a disguise by a very angry "Bug" who's a member of a giant cockroach-like species that are at war with several other alien races in the galaxy, including the Arquillians. An Arquillian prince hiding in Brooklyn (Brooklyn???), disguised as a human jewelry store owner who loves his cat is attacked, and tells Agent J as he dies that "the galaxy is on Orion's belt". The correct interpretation of this message will help to save Earth from eventual destruction by another alien race. While we wait to see what will ultimately happen, the film moves along at a nice pace with a perfect blend of sci-fi excitement and human comedy. For those of us who live in or anywhere near New York City, it's an interesting twist of events to see the observation towers of the New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows in Queens (made famous at the 1964 World's Fair) secretly disguised as two flying saucers to be used by the enemy "Bug" if he, indeed, gets away with his villainous deed! Well, since we all know that bad aliens almost never get away with it in the end, we can take comfort in knowing that the "Bug" is destroyed, the M.I.B. win the day, and we, as ordinary, stupid citizens of the world are all the better for never knowing just what sort of cosmic danger we were really in!
MEN IN BLACK ends up satisfying all of the text book requirements for an enjoyable summer blockbuster hit. However, a smart script, spectacular set pieces, and charismatic performances from its lead characters make it something more entirely. And of course, just like any other original hit mix, it's the inevitable fly in the ointment that end up ruining things - namely two completely forgettable sequels! Never did Lara Flynn Boyle look more like a pale skank than she did in MEN IN BLACK II (2002)! I mean, seriously, look at her...
Favorite line or dialogue:
Zed: "May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?"
James Edwards: "Well, she was the only one that actually seemed dangerous at the time, sir."
Zed: "How'd you come to that conclusion?"
James: "Well, first I was gonna pop this guy hanging from the street light, and I realized, y'know, he's just working out. I mean, how would I feel if somebody come runnin' in the gym and bust me in my ass while I'm on the treadmill? Then I saw this snarling beast guy, and I noticed he had a tissue in his hand, and I'm realizing, y'know, he's not snarling, he's sneezing. Y'know, ain't no real threat there. Then I saw little Tiffany. I'm thinking, y'know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit, Zed. She's about eight years old, those books are WAY too advanced for her. If you ask me, I'd say she's up to something. And to be honest, I'd appreciate it if you eased up off my back about it...or do I owe her an apology?"
And with that...Merry Christmas, one and all!