Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in Men in Black (1997)


(director: Barry Sonnenfeld; screenwriters: Ed Solomon/based on the comic book by Lowell Cunningham; cinematographer: Donald Peterman; editor: Jim Miller; music: Danny Elfman; cast: Tommy Lee Jones (K), Will Smith (J), Linda Fiorentino (Laurel), Rip Torn (Zed), Vincent D’Onofrio (Edgar), Tony Shalhoub (Jeebs), Mike Nussbaum (Gentle Rosenberg); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Walter F. Parkes/Laurie MacDonald; Columbia Pictures; 1997)
“A fun movie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Barry Sonnenfeld’s (“Addams Family”) science fiction comedy Men in Black has a great idea, but is sorely in need of a plot. Its estimated budget is $90 million and it grossed more than $250 million at the domestic box office and nearly $600 million worldwide. Such numbers matter to the studio heads when talking about this droll rather unsophisticated comedy and its universal appeal it garnered as undemanding blockbuster entertainment for the masses–those who read the tabloids for their outer space experiences. The film is based on the Marvel sci-fi comic book by Lowell Cunningham and scripted by Ed Solomon.

James Darrel Edwards (Will Smith) is an athletic New York City cop with a strong anti-authoritarian attitude and a sassy mouth. After chasing down a perp through Manhattan’s streets and the Guggenheim Museum, who turns out to be an illegal alien from outer space, James is recruited by “K” (Tommy Lee Jones) to be his new partner. K’s a veteran member of a secret government police agency busy regulating the activities of extraterrestrial aliens on Earth, seeing how there are about 1,500 aliens who currently inhabit the planet in human disguise and some present a possible danger to the world. The agency is nicknamed the “men in black” for their nondescript uniform of black suit, shoes, skinny ties, and Ray-Bans. Once a member and initiated into the secret weaponry, memory erasers (the Neuralizer which erases short-term memories) and the power dressing code, James is given the name Agent J.

The men are soon faced with saving the world as a giant alien bug is stolen and squeezed into the body of a farmer named Edgar (Vincent D’Onofrio), who drives an exterminator’s truck. Edgar’s an intergalactic terrorist in town to assassinate two ambassadors from opposing galaxies and the MIB must track down the terrorist to prevent the Earth’s destruction.

Rip Torn is the unemotional home office leader of the secret agency, proud of his organization; while gritty Linda Fiorentino plays the city medical examiner making light of the morgue-like atmosphere.

The crime fighting duo have good chemistry together in this male bonding buddy action adventure–Jones offering a deadpan foil to Smith’s intensive manic performance. There’s plenty of snappy dialogue, the fx special effects are super, the hipster mood set is pleasant, and the lazy story is so superbly scripted by Solomon that it gets over across all world barriers. It’s a fun movie that had all the right ingredients to catch the public’s fancy.