New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Men In Black: International

This 4th attempt at extraterrestrial comedy is as harmless as the creatures prowling Men in Black headquarters. This franchise debuted in 1997 with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones behind the eyewear directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. There was  light, frothy humor interspersed with fast paced banter and it was fun.

Two decades later, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are in the driver’s seat of the decked out product-placement car, shooting cartoon-sized weaponry, and desperately trying to find some kind of chemistry between their characters. Interesting role reversal having Agent H, Hemsworth, the veteran, but crazy, and Agent M, Thompson, be the rookie but she’s much too stable. They’re totally the opposite of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith’s ying and yang.

Hemsworth has that little twinkle in his eye and retains his Thor-esque satirical attitude. And yes, he does take off his shirt, more than once. Tessa Thompson, on the other hand, is mostly a dour presence. We thought her role could have had more fun. After seeing aliens in action as a child and not getting her mind erased by Men in Black, she is completely devoted to becoming an MIB agent. 

These are two very likable actors who are just given a checklist of a script. Chase scene through a casbah market? Check. Cute and very funny alien sidekick? (Played by Kumail Nanjiani who is definitely the coolest and funniest part of the film.) Check. Generous use of the central gimmick, the neuralyzer, to erase memories? Check. Fill the screen with stock-looking, retread CGI aliens? Check. Save the world from the villain whose plot twist was telegraphed less than half-way through the movie? So evident. Check.

Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the Furious) certainly knows how to tell a good story and create great action scenes. But those scenes of jet motorcycle and flying car chases never take off in this film. There is a malaise to the direction that indicates a lack of faith in the material. It feels like he keeps a quick pace to the film in order to end it faster.

There’s a lot of flying glass and destruction but the special effects are nothing to write home about. And Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Fallout) as Riza, is wasted as the villain with an extra arm who does not pose much of a threat.

There are two areas where writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway could have made this more than a cash-grab film. First, in the casting of multiple Thompsons, Tessa as a lead, and Emma as her boss, the writers seem pressured to make sure strong women are included, but that they don’t rock the boat too much. Coincidentally, Liam Neeson is on board for his gravelly voice and to fend off any charges of ageism.

But the most glaring pussy-footing is in the avoidance of acknowledging the political elephant in the room. At its heart, the MIB movies deal with immigrants, migration and acceptance of the other. Even though the script mentions a “First Migration” of aliens, there is nothing to suggest any recognition of the current state of affairs vis à vis immigration of actual alien people at our borders. What a wasted opportunity to use humor for a greater purpose. 

There are a few laugh lines and some appealing, eye catching special effects like the evil duo, played by Les Twins. Their demonic, glowing eyes and colorful animated are some of the most watchable scenes. But halting and speeding up their action coming towards the camera looks pretty phoney. Overall, Men in Black: International is a growing list of summer blockbuster disappointments with sequilitis. Anyone who sees this  MIB definitely needs to be neuralyzied before even considering seeing another one hit the screen.

Universal            114 Minutes         PG-13

from Movies and Shakers

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