September 10, 2015
Men in Black (1997)
Grade: 54/100

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino

What it's about. Based on a comic book series, this live action comedy sci-fi blockbuster stars Tommy Lee Jones as a non-Federal agent for an organization that monitors the activities of aliens on Earth. Jones' veteran sidekick has retired, which obligates Jones to train a new partner, Will Smith. They regularly encounter Linda Fiorentino, apparently the only coroner in New York City.

An alien cockroach lands, takes human form in hulking Vincent D'Onofrio, and begins a rampage with the intention of seizing a galaxy kept on the collar of a cat named Orion. He will then leave Earth with the galaxy on a spacecraft stored at the Queens site of the former 1964 World's Fair. It is up to Jones, Smith, and Fiorentino to stop him, for if D'Onofrio succeeds, Earth will be destroyed, yada yada.

How others will see it. How I felt about it. The thorough effort by producer Steven Spielberg and others paid off when Men in Black had a humongous box office of 250K in the U.S. alone. The critics were generally favorable, knowing that the movie was undeniably a hit with the public. The film did best at the Saturn Awards, where it picked up eight nominations and won Best Science Fiction Film. It also garnered a Best Comedy nod at the Golden Globes, and even managed to secure three Oscar nominations, although none in major categories.

Despite its age and two less successful sequels, Men in Black remains regarded as a must-see movie. At, it has 365K user votes and a fairly high user rating of 7.2, mostly consistent across all demographics.

Many viewers place the movie in the same category as Ghostbusters, a comedy with a sci-fi story that places the world in peril. I like Ghostbusters better, primarily due to its ensemble cast, but the comparison is appropriate.

Men in Black is cunningly crafted to appeal to the widest demographic in the U.S. The three leads are a young black man, a middle-aged white man, and a beautiful woman. It is difficult to argue against the casting, since Jones is cool, Smith is fun, and Fiorentino is sexy.

But of the three, Fiorentino is the least credible. Her early scenes are cerebral, and she generally keeps her cool. But it would be more natural if she reacted in classic female fashion; screaming, running, and hiding, instead of a female equivalent of a man in such a situation. It appears that the producers are more interested in providing a comely role model instead of the woman in peril that she should be.

Admittedly, the movie is amusing, and the generous budget allows special effects that would be otherwise untenable. But since the silliness is taken to cartoon extremes, and the film is based on a comic book series, why not make it a cartoon to begin with? The answer, once again, is commercial. People will pay to see Will Smith tote a blast weapon, but they won't shell out for an animated feature with a character voiced by Smith. Unless the film is targeted at children, e.g. Shrek.

By the way, I still am not sure that Will Smith has ever made a good movie, that is, one that I would grade 60 or higher. He has made a mountain of money, but that is a different matter. In comparison, Eddie Murphy made two good movies from the get-go: 48 Hrs. and Trading Places.

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