Goon in Black (Weekly Links)

Smith and Jones and greenscreen: MiB3

Links to reviews I wrote this week for the Herald, and etc.

Men in Black 3. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

The first two “Men in Black” movies (1997 and 2002, respectively) teemed with wacky ideas and throwaway sight gags, as though the premise (secret government agents charged with monitoring outer-space visitors) allowed for a special sort of sci-fi creativity to flourish.

Maybe the ten-year layoff was too long for everybody—well, everybody but an energetic Will Smith, as we’ll see—but “Men in Black 3” is streamlined and uncluttered by comparison. The jokes are more sedate, the pacing is languid, and the alien creatures are few and far between.

Oh sure, you can give points for the round-headed extraterrestrial whose noggin pops off and gets used as a bowling ball. I’ll grant you that one. But this sequel is full of promising ideas that don’t pay off. For instance, it sounds funny for Agent J (Smith) to travel back in time to 1969 to stop an alien from killing Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) at a tender age.

And it sounds even funnier that J would team up with the younger version of Agent K, and that this character would be played by Tommy Lee Jones’ “No Country for Old Men” co-star, Josh Brolin. Arrange for the climax to take place upon the launch pad of the first manned mission to the Moon, and you’ve got the ingredients. Alas, most of the ideas stay on the launch pad, waiting to be filled in by zany special effects or a crazed moment for an actor.

Despite a burst of shrill alien-speak, Emma Thompson can’t do anything with her underwritten role as a Woman in Black, and Michael Stuhlbarg (“A Serious Man”) is stranded in a humor-free E.T. part. Only Jemaine Clement, the “Flight of the Conchords” comic, is sufficiently in the spirit of the first two movies, even if you really can’t see him under all the make-up. Tommy Lee Jones is offscreen for most of the picture, and Brolin doesn’t carry much comedy snap. So it’s up to Will Smith, who works hard and finds a few good deadpan reactions mixed in with the fast-talking bursts of disbelief.

As his prominence on the poster indicates, it’s Smith’s show, and he again displays why he is a movie star, especially in his ability to build a quick rapport with the audience. But given how much lead time they had (Smith hasn’t had a movie out since 2008), you’d think the jokes would be better and the craziness more fleshed-out.

Barry Sonnenfeld returns to the director’s chair, although even his antic style seems subdued this time (he does find a few amusing uses for 3-D). Or maybe it’s just the digital blankness of the picture: it has a clean, bleached sheen that makes everything look like actors standing in front of green screens, the world digitally created behind them. In other words, “Men in Black 3” looks suspiciously like the work of aliens. It’s too late, Agents J and K: the visitors have taken over.

Headhunters. “The gonzo energy of a born thriller-maker.”

Post Mortem. “The odd feeling that information is being left out of the top and bottom of your vision, as though you were looking through lateral slats in a window.”

Goon. “An awesome ’70s mustache.”

Some picks for the upcoming week at the Seattle International Film Festival.

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about the transformation of the wrong people into initialized brands (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed = KSM, for instance), plus a few SIFF tips. It’s archived here; our conversation begins at the 20:40 point.

At What a Feeling!, we conclude a week of one-word titles from the 1980s featuring strong female stars; the last one of the bunch is Robert Benton’s Nadine.

Rotten, the critically-acclaimed graphic novel, will be a presence at this weekend’s Crypticon in Seattle; watch Rotten‘s Mark Rahner clamber out of a coffin to promote the event here.