Men in Black (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★
The opening scene of the highly successful “Men in Black,” both in box office results and audience approval, featured a group of border patrolmen stopping a vehicle suspected of carrying aliens/illegal immigrants. Little did they know that one of the passengers was an actual alien from outer space. The first scene rightfully set the tone of the rest of the picture. There were a handful of clever and funny double entendres, one of the most notable being an alien cockroach inhabiting a human body (Vincent D’Onofrio) posing as a bug exterminator. It also had a level of irony. Enter Will Smith as an NYPD cop–eventually renamed Agent Jay–recruited by Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) to be a member of the government designed to protect humanity from all things extraterrestrial. Agent Kay was serious and he spoke in a monotonous manner (perhaps his performance was influenced by a television show called “The X-Files”). Agent Jay was lively and had a penchant for cracking jokes and wielding big weapons. They were amusing in their own ways so we cared about them. Right off the bat, we felt that they had great chemistry which the film sometimes used as a crutch when it diverged its focus from the main storyline which involved the possible destruction of the human race if a certain jewel wasn’t delivered to its rightful owner. For instance, one distraction was Agent Jay’s romantic interest toward a woman (Linda Fiorentino) who worked in a morgue. However, I didn’t mind its occasional lack of focus because it was very fast-paced and it never forgot to have fun. It kept me curious. When the woman examined a dead body and she found something curious inside it, the camera did not rush to show us what she saw. The material was smart enough to let us think about the oddity. More importantly, it impressed me because “Men in Black” proved that a film about the end of the world can be both successful as a sci-fi comedy and a commercial project. Unlike Roland Emmerich’s disappointing “Independence Day,” this movie captured a sense of fun within the dangers that were unfolding before our eyes. Based on the comics by Lowell Cunningham and skillfully directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black” may have felt small in scope but the rewards were undeniably big. It wanted to engage its audiences instead of spoon-feeding us information. For a movie about a world inhabited with aliens, I admired that it didn’t offer interminable scenes which served to explain. It simply showed. And that may have been its main recipe for success.