Movie Review: “Men in Black 3″

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The third “Men in Black” is as lazy and thrown-together as any major blockbuster I can remember. Not only is it joyless, lifeless and nearly totally lacking in excitement, but with the exception of the special effects department, I get the sense that just about no one in any aspect of the production tried, at all.

Even if it hadn’t been reported for months that the movie went into production without a finished script, it would be obvious; it probably finished it without one too. For one thing, “Men in Black 3″ has the most glaring plot holes of any major movie I can remember.

The first “Men in Black,” in 1997, was legitimately fresh, and hilarious, with a great conceit- New York as a way station for aliens, the way it’s been for immigrants for 200 years. Even the sci-fi made sense.

The 2002 sequel was less successful; not as funny or satirical, a little bit of that talking alien dog went a long way, and to this day I couldn’t tell you a thing about the plot of it. And to give you an idea of how long ago “Men in Black II” was, it starred Lara Flynn Boyle as the main villain. (Then again, the female lead in the first movie was Linda Fiorentino- where in the world did she go?)

Will Smith, ending a nearly four-year screen hiatus, returns as Agent J, with Tommy Lee Jones reprising his role as K, although Rip Torn’s boss character has been killed off, despite Torn being very much still alive.

The agents must battle an alien gangster (an unrecognizable Jemaine Clement), with plans to go back in time to 1969 and assassinate K; J goes back too, in order to partner with the younger version of K (Josh Brolin.)

Brolin has a great time imitating his “No Country For Old Men” costar, and some of the special effects are impressive. But the whole enterprise has an unmistakable stink of desperation- that, absent any kind of compelling idea or even a finished script, this movie was only made because the studio needed a May tentpole. And of course, it’s in 3D- glorious, half-hearted, totally unimpressive 3D.

And even worse, the story is full of glaring plot holes and time travel paradoxes, starting with the question of why, in an alternate future with no K to recruit him, J got to be a part of Men in Black. The movie also raises the question of why J remembers K, but never answers it.

The trip to 1969 is like a failed Austin Powers sequel, filled with half-hearted hippie jokes. And Brolin, who is clearly in his mid-40s, at one point is asked his age and answers “29”; I’m still not sure if that’s supposed to be a laugh line or not.

There are exactly two things in the movie that work- Michael Stuhlbarg (from “A Serious Man”) stars in his own little mini-Twilight Zone episode as an alien who can always see infinite future timelines. And there’s a cameo for Bill Hader as Andy Warhol that’s every bit as funny as it sounds.

Regardless, what was fresh and creative in 1997 is old and tiresome now. I wish the world’s biggest and most powerful movie star would actually use some ambition and take risks, rather than spend his energy on derivative sequels and vanity projects for his kids.

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