Men in Black (1997) — A comic booky X-Files

“We’re not hosting an intergalactic kegger down here.”

Justin’s rating: Give me liberty, or give me a taco!

Justin’s review: You might not realize this, but most movies are really about job satisfaction. Don’t feel bad, I myself did not discover this newly-minted fact until I was watching Men In Black over a few Lo-Fat Twinkies (mmm… more filling…). See, movies are almost always about (1) people with jobs we wish we had or (2) people with dull, ordinary jobs like waitressing or being a Canadian who end up being employed somewhere utterly cool.

As a teen, I would often watch MacGyver (while constructing Twinkies out of a sponge, whipped cream, and a rubber band) and deeply wish that I could be a member of the Phoenix Foundation. It just seemed like the best job in the world: they shuttled you around to different parts of the world, not really doing anything other than hanging around until a terrorist organization starts some crap, and you can swing in to save the day. Plus, it had health benefits!

So MIB boasts a nifty job description. Agent J (Will Smith) is recruited by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) to help keep tabs on alien immigrants on planet Earth. In order to join, J has to effectively vanish forever, having his past erased electronically and any mention of his existence erased. I think this one bonus of the job would pull in thousands of Americans desperate to send their high school years to oblivion. J, K, and the rest of the Alphabets also get some spiffy weapons that liquidate their foes, a neurolizer that wipes a human’s recent memory, and a music video with that Fresh Prince guy.

This movie is one of the many ’90s comic books that made the big-budget adaption to the silver screen. Although, to be honest, the silver screen isn’t so much silver any more than a non-stop commercial for Coca-Cola. Hey, let’s have a Senseless Survey right now, shall we?

Oh, come back, please? Will Smith’s widespread appeal aside, MIB’s main attraction are the aliens. Star Wars has nothing on these geeks, from java-chugging little guys to a wise-cracking pug. Which reminds me, I’m looking for a dog right now. Pugs have the added attraction of snoring WAY more than I do, so that would be a good canine choice. [Pause] Hold on…

We Break For A Special Announcement From Our Mutant Reviewers secretary

Uh, folks? That Justin guy? I think he’s left the building? He said something about trained attack doggies? I don’t think he’ll be coming back? Call back tomorrow for a full refund?

PoolMan’s rating: Agent P? Somehow, that’s not as cool as I’d hoped it would sound.

PoolMan’s review: I was pleasantly surprised last week when, whilst flipping through the channels, I came across the PREMIERE of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Not the one where Will’s whitebread cousin gets drunk and dances like Tom Jones (again), and not the one where the snobby cousin decides she wants to have a baby courtesy of a sperm bank. The very FIRST episode. Will Smith in neon green and blue wearing a hat that stuck off his head at about a 70-degree angle.

So, with a grin on my face and a song in my heart (“Innnnnnn West Philadelphia/ Born and raised/ On the playground/ Is where I spent most of my days…”) I sat and watched. The laughter that came out of me was truly something. Not because it was that good a show… let’s face it, it wasn’t. But I really had to laugh at Will Smith’s origins, because man, he’s come a long way, baby. Up to, including, but not limited to, one of my favourite movies ever.

Which brings us, finally, to Men In Black.

Not that Will is all that made this movie. Tommy Lee Jones has such amazing capacity as the straight man, I’m surprised he’s not in more comedies than he is. But to be sure, these guys have all kinds of chemistry together as Agents J and K, members of the super-secret agency known as MIB. The half of the story that Justin didn’t tell is that just as J (Smith) is coming up to speed in his new career as an alien policeman, one of the nastiest, meanest, ugliest aliens comes to earth to start an intergalactic war. Much gooey blood is spilled, many “def, fresh, and phat” puns are made at K’s expense, and many of earth’s prominent citizens are revealed to be not from earth at all, but from worlds out of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

There’s something inherently cool about the whole premise. Like Justin said, there’s a real “I wish I had that job” element here. The audience gets jealous of J really quick (or at least I did). It’s a real modern fantasy. I mean, who wouldn’t like to just dodge out on reality, put on some pretty cool duds, have access to the most advanced technology on (and off) earth, and flirt with Linda Fiorent- uh, destiny! It’s totally escapist, but it’s smart and funny at the same time. More intelligence in comedies would be appreciated these days (I’m talking to you, Scary Movie).

Watching this movie always makes me think of Ghostbusters. Not in a blatant ripoff kind of way, but in a “let ’em know we were thinking of them” kind of way. A collection of goofy guys goes up against a force that the general public doesn’t believe in, deliver a series of memorable comedic speeches, and win the day with fancy weaponry and a smug grin. You’ve just gotta love it. The similarities are there, but make no mistake, MIB is definitely its own film.

Provided you’re not an arachnophobe (the bug scenes could induce nightmares for months if you are), Men In Black stands very near the top of my personal “fave comedies of all time” list. With lots of great references, fun quotes, cool gadgets, great characters, and sharp effects, you could do a lot worse. Slap on the shades, and have fun!

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