Movie #73: Men In Black (1997)

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Rip Torn

Academy Awards (1998):

Best Makeup: Rick Baker, David LeRoy

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Art Direction- Set Decoration: Bo Welch (art director), Cheryl Carasik (set director)

Best Music Original Musical or Comedy Score: Danny Elfman

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Fun.

Pure, precise, unapologetic fun.

That’s how I’d describe Men in Black.  NYPD officer James Edwards III (Smith) is recruited to a secret government agency known as the Men in Black by Agent K (Jones).  They investigate an alien bug who has taken the skin of farmer Edgar (D’Onofrio) to disguise his true form.  The bug wants to capture the Galaxy, an incredible source of energy his people will use to destroy the Arquillians, another alien race.

This film is pretty straightforward plot-wise.  At 98 minutes in length, Men in Black is to the point and very intentional with how the story progresses.  There isn’t a whole lot of cutesy fringe stuff that doesn’t contribute to the main story, primarily J’s integration to life as an M.I.B. agent.  There are numerous gags and an incredible amount of memorable one-liners, but they fit seamlessly into the film’s plot.

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Released in 1997, Men in Black works very well with the technological limitations that still existed.  Compared to today’s standards, the CGI in this film was both primitive not nearly as far-fetched.  Still, most of the special effects throughout the film are just believable enough to pass.  Also, they aren’t so blatantly fake or forced, which was more of a possibility at this time.

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The acting throughout the film was fantastic.  Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play such contrasting characters that they work well as a team.  Agent J, the fast-talking, wise-cracking rookie who is disturbed and twitchy at times over his new world is a nice contrast with Agent K, the veteran who’s seen it all and isn’t phased by their challenges.   One of my favorite exchanges happens when they leave the morgue the first time:

Agent J: “Hey K, have you ever flashy-thinged me?”

Agent K: “No.”

J: “I ain’t playin’ with you K! Have you ever flashy-thinged me?”

K:”No.”

Smith’s wise-cracks and Jones’ overly dry sense of humor is just straight-up entertaining.

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Playing a character as strange as Edgar was no small task.  I think Vincent D’Onofrio gives one of the funniest performances of his career.  Though appearing as Edgar, albeit a decomposing Edgar, D’Onofrio pulls off the fish-out-of-water, or would that be alien-out-of-water, great.  His single-minded mentality of getting the Galaxy at whatever cost allowed for a lot of funny moments.

Tony Shalhoub’s one scene in this film was great.  I enjoyed both him and Frank the Pug’s scenes, and I was disappointed, though not surprised, that they had more time in Men in Black 2, a movie I felt was just made to make more money at the expense of writing a good story.  The second film used the elements that made this movie great, but they expanded them enough to where it did more harm than good.

Men in Black movie image Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith

Men in Black is a highly entertaining, concise movie that benefited from strong lead chemistry and virtually no filler scenes and sub-plots.  Smith and Jones both work well together and play well off of each other.  I can watch this one every now and again, and though I know the movie backwards and forwards, I still find it fun to watch.

Though this film is considered a family movie, for me there was just enough foul language for me to say it’s almost a family movie, I’d wait until the kids are close to their teen years before letting them watch this movie.  The language was the only drawback for me.  Though it worked with the comedy, I felt it for the most part wasn’t necessary.  I don’t think the comedic effect would have been lost if they’d cut that stuff out.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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