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Review by
Kelly Parks

Men in Black
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MEN IN BLACK - 1997
Amblin Entertainment/Columbia Pictures
Ratings: Argentina: 13 / Australia: M / Australia: PG (
CENSORED) / Chile: TE / Finland: K-12 / France: U / Germany, Ireland, Netherlands: 12 / Norway: 11 / Portugal: M/12 / Singapore, UK: PG / Sweden: 11 / USA: PG-13

Positive feedback loop: a process that builds on itself, steadily becoming greater. Deluded individuals in the 50's, affected by prominent discussions of space travel in the media at the time, begin claiming that UFO's (which does NOT equal alien spaceship - it just means a flying object that hasn't been identified yet) in fact are aliens come to visit / study / save / anal probe us. This movement grows large enough that demands for a government inquiry are made. The government does several studies and finds no evidence of alien visitation, which can only mean one thing: massive conspiracy. And I mean big! Those JFK conspiracy people are simple-minded amateurs compared to the UFO conspiracy people (who know JFK's assassination was to keep him from revealing the truth about UFO's!) They are all that stand in the way of the secret government agency that keeps the truth from us. This obsessive psuedo-religion without a shred of hard evidence to its name (just like a real religion!) grows and grows, leading to a TV series that started out cool but stayed long after it ran out of ideas. What will this unstoppable sociological monster produce next? How about a wacky comedy?

MEN IN BLACK was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (THE ADDAMS FAMILY, ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES) and written by Ed Solomon, based on the comic book by Lowell Cunningham. The story opens with a group of illegal aliens (get it? Ha!) being brought into the U.S. in the back of a van. A border patrol roadblock stops the van in what seems like a routine situation until an unmarked black sedan shows up. A man identified as K (Tommy Lee Jones: THE EYES OF LAURA MARS, NATURAL BORN KILLERS) flashes an ID and takes over.

Men in Black: Protecting the Earth From the Scum of the Universe

It turns out that one of the illegals is a genuine alien, here in violation (so he's told) of seven interstellar treaties. Mikey the alien seems cooperative at first but then he tries to make a break for it and K vaporizes the creature, leaving a stunned border patrol agent splashed with blue goo. All the witnesses to the alien visitation are taken care of when K whips out his neuralizer, an optical device that can erase memories.

Meanwhile, in New York City, NYPD detective James Edwards (Will Smith: ENEMY OF THE STATE) is on foot, chasing a suspect. This suspect seems to have superhuman abilities, jumping from bridges and climbing up walls. But Edwards is no slouch himself and manages to capture the odd individual, only to have him leap to his death from the top of a building. Before that happens Edwards witnesses the suspect blink with an inner set of eyelids. What the hell is going on?

Cut to an isolated farmhouse. An angry husband is berating his wife, telling her how worthless she is. The only useful thing in his life, he says, is his pick up truck. A wayward alien spacecraft chooses that moment to crash, landing right on top of the aforementioned vehicle. Don't you hate when that happens?

The farmer, Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio: THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR, THE CELL), grabs his shotgun and goes to investigate. As he cautiously approaches the crater a voice from within tells him to drop his weapon. When Edgar tells the voice that he can have his gun when he pries it from his cold, dead fingers, the voice replies, "Your offer is accepted."

Meanwhile, Detective Edwards is being debriefed back at police headquarters. This isn't going well because nobody believes Edwards' story (especially about the extra eyelids). Just then K shows up and takes over as before. He questions the confused Edwards about his suicidal suspect, discovering that just before his skydive the man said something about the end of the world approaching. K seems to take this very seriously.

K takes Edwards along to question a suspect, a pawnshop owner played by the wonderful Tony Shaloub (THIRTEEN GHOSTS, GATTACA). This is where the real fun begins, as Edwards discovers, has his memory erased, then rediscovers just what K is and how one becomes a member of the Men in Black.

Okay, enough with the details. This movie is a hoot! Will Smith has funny line after funny line, and Tommy Lee Jones' deadpan delivery is freaking hilarious more than once. The movie takes the murky details of the UFO conspiracy theorists and brings it to life as a shadowy organization that is trying its best to protect humanity from the scum of the universe. The Men in Black are good guys, not bad guys.

Other memorable characters include Deputy Medical examiner Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino: DOGMA, The Last Seduction [mini-review: Have you seen The Last Seduction? You should!]) and Zed (Rip Torn: ROBOCOP III). Fiorentino's portrayal of the "I want to believe" Dr. Weaver is fun and fabulous and Rip Torn is his usual Very Cool Guy.

But my favorite is Vincent D'Onofrio as the alien in the steadily decaying Edgar suit. He's an insect creature and we are told that, like all roaches, his kind feed on death and destruction. He's come to Earth to steal a powerful weapon from another alien refugee.

And even a movie this wacky deserves a

!!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!!:
I'll skip over all the things I could say about aliens in general - there's not enough room to open that can of worms (but read "Rare Earth" by Ward and Brownlee). I just want to comment on something K says about how the Men in Black fund themselves. He implies that many of the great inventions from the last few decades (microwave ovens, computer chips, etc.) were actually alien technology. This idea is taken directly from the UFO mythos of the MiB, and as a technophile and a science geek, I find it insulting. In spite of the evidence to the contrary, humans are pretty smart. We invented all that stuff on our own.

Soap Box Mode: OFF. Any movie that can make me use the word "hoot" definitely deserves five shriek girls. I give MEN IN BLACK the big 5.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2002 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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To this day (From October 1997 to July 7, 2002 so far), in many INS offices across the U.S.A. (Texas, Arizona, and California at any rate), Immigration Officers proudly hang posters from the movie
MEN IN BLACK that proclaim
PROTECTING EARTH FROM THE SCUM OF THE UNIVERSE!
Way to go gang! That's a great attitude!

 

E.C. McMullen Jr.'s
short story
CEDO LOOKED LIKE PEOPLE
appears in the anthology
FEAR THE REAPER


ALSO FROM
E.C. McMullen Jr.
a collection of previously published short stories in
PERPETUAL BULLET
Perpetual Bullet
"E.C. McMullen Jr's 'Some People' ... may be the standout story in the book."
- John Grant, Infinityplus

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