24 Lies A Second

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Aliens Smith and Jones

You know, when I was a lad, the only people who talked about the Men in Black phenomenon were Forteans, ufologists and Mulderalikes, because back then they were an urban legend: supposedly, emissaries of alien forces intent on covering up otherworldly activities on Earth. People investigated the subject in a very serious minded way. Jung was mentioned.

These days, of course, nobody believes a word of it (to coin a phrase). Mention Men in Black and people will start quoting Tommy Lee Jones if you're lucky, or engage in misguided attempts at rapping if you're not, such was the penetration into the zeitgeist of the 1997 movie of the same name. In fact, if I was of a conspiratorial bent I might ponder the way the 'real' MIB mystery has been so effectively obscured, and those who would investigate it seriously rendered a laughing-stock. But I'm not, so I don't. Much...

Anyway, considering the megabucks raked in by the first outing there should be no surprise whatsoever in the fact that nearly everyone involved has returned for another outing: Men in Black 2, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Five years have passed and
Agent J (Will Smith) is now the one saddled with a succession of useless partners and a vague yearning for a normal life. This changes when the evil (not to mention amply-upholstered) Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle) arrives on Earth looking for the mythical 'Light of Zarthos', which was involved in an old case back in the 70s. The only man who knows where the Light is, inevitably, J's old mentor K (Tommy Lee Jones), who's happily living as a post office worker with no recollection that he's the most feared human in the cosmos...

Well, if you like sequels, have no fear, because this is one of the sequeliest sequels in living memory. Virtually everybody from number one comes back this time, with the obvious exception of Vincent D'Onofrio and the lamentable exception of Linda Fiorentino. The worm guys come back, Frank the talking dog comes back, the
regenerating-head guy (Tony Shalhoub) comes back... Suffice to say that if you liked something in the first film, it's here for you to enjoy again. The continuity is excellent, too, by the way.

There is new stuff - sort of. Serleena is a slightly better organised and more articulate villain, although her duocephalous sidekick(s) Charlie and Scrad (Johnny Knoxville) are a one-joke character(s). That's about it, though, but what the film lacks in
originality and new ideas it makes up for in the way it successfully puts novel spins on old gags. This is being marketed as a comedy (although it works equally well as a dumb sci-fi romp) and it manages to be genuinely amusing nearly all the way through. Smith and Jones spark effectively off each other, there are some very droll pieces of broad satire, Rip Torn weighs in with the usual priceless comic support, and when all else fails there are off-colour sight gags, people making silly noises, and singing dogs to be wheeled on: yes, there's no length the script won't go to in pursuit of a laugh.

Our late founder, DNA, once commented of the original Men in Black that he found some of the jokes suspiciously familiar, and I suspect that this feeling would not have been assuaged by the latest instalment: there's a joke near the start involving an
invading alien spacecraft and a small dog that could have been ripped whole from any version of the Guide you care to mention (and, oddly enough, it didn't get a very big laugh at the screening I attended). But this really isn't a problem with the film, although it does have a few. Like the first one, it doesn't quite get the balance right between being smart and being emotionally engaging. It kicks off with a wodge of told-not-shown exposition that probably isn't strictly necessary. There's a plot point involving K's wiped memories that isn't gone into quite deeply enough. And Knoxville's character seems to disappear out of the film like a boojum, with no explanation given (perhaps I've been neuralised), although I doubt you'll miss him much, I mean, it's not like you're being deprived of one of the great actors of our time...

There's always a faint whiff of the mechanical about Men in Black 2. It provides everything you'd expect from a blockbuster sequel, which you can take as praise or criticism - but please, not at the same time. It's slick, it's polished, it's frequently very funny indeed. If you thought the first one was a diverting amusement, you'll find this one a diverting amusement too.


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