Men in Black 2
starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and a pug
2 stars

by Stephen Notley

There's a scene in the first Men in Black movie where Will Smith chases the bad guy out on the street and fires at him with a futuristic gun, blowing a hole in a semi. Tommy Lee Jones stops him, saying "Whoa -- you can't fire your guns in public!" Smith replies "Hey --there's an alien battle cruiser about to destroy Earth, we got bigger things to worry about." And Tommy Lee Jones replies, "Aw, that's not such a big deal; there's *always* some big battle cruiser about to destroy Earth."

It's funny, but at the same time it also crystallizes something about the movie, which was if it's no big deal, why should I care? Without a line of dramatic tension, Men in Black was just a series of more or less random gag bits of goofy aliens. Affable gag bits, with Smith and Jones doing some funny riffing, but nothing you could really get worked up about.

So too with Men in Black 2, except more. It's an amiable return to the Men in Black world, which amounts to wandering around bumping into peculiar aliens. There's no particular urgency, there's no particular character arc... it's just a stroll through a New York filled with aliens.

Literally, a stroll. The plot is similar to the last film, in which an evil alien (Lara Flynn Boyle) is looking for some whatzit and the boys have to stop her. This time, though, she just sits in one place while Will Smith has to go re-recruit the memory-blanked Tommy Lee Jones, since Jones is the only one who knows where the whatzit is. But he *doesn't* remember, so they amble around following clues he'd left for himself, and it's a 80-minute scavenger hunt safari through New Alien York.

Which, for a summer gummer, should be fine. One can't get worked up to hate the movie. It's well-meaning, in its simple way. Will Smith, on his own, riffing, will make you laugh, just as in the first movie. David Cross of cult fave Mr. Show nicely spins his scene as a video-collector who's creepier than any of the aliens. It's just a shame that so much of the humor is built around special effect gags that are peculiar, but often, dammit, just not that funny.

Men in Black 2 also has serious sequelitis, which is when small but notable elements from the first movie are brought back and inflated to create warm feelings of nostalgia for the first film. You remember the talking pug? Well, now he talks a lot more, really controlling the movie for the first 15 minutes. How about those little worm guys? Now we get to see their cool party pad. If there'd been, say, a *story* to bind them together, that would have been great. Instead, it's more like, "Oh, hi, you again. Hey, man."

Ultimately, Men in Black 2 is trivial. It's not about anything, and it has nothing to say.  The one idea seems to be "There sure are a lot of peculiar freaks in New York, and some of them are aliens." That idea, as expressed in the film, is mildly diverting, and that's about it. See Powerpuff Girls instead.