I was a big fan of the first “Men In Black” because it had more than just good special effects and an interesting story. It also had wit. When the movie became a blockbuster, there was no doubt they’d make a sequel, and I worried it would fall victim to Billy Crystal-itis, a syndrome I named after what Crystal did with “City Slickers 2.”
The first “City Slickers” was a wonderful story about Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby as tourists (along Josh Mostel, David Paymer, and Helen Slater) spending their summer vacation driving a herd of cattle across the plains while overseen by a crusty old cowboy named Curly, played by Jack Palance. Palance did such a good job with his supporting role that he won the Oscar the following year and gave a funny speech that for some reason included one-armed pushups. Crystal was the emcee that year, saw what had happened, and ran with that moment as his theme for the rest of the night in some very funny ad-libs.
The problem was he didn’t stop there. When it came time to make “City Slickers 2,” Crystal decided to have Palance — whose character had died before the end of the first movie — reappear as Curly’s brother, and with the entire plot based around him. The movie was even called “City Slickers 2: Curly’s Gold.” That elevation of a supporting character to a bigger role in the plot (and the fact that Bruno Kirby was replaced by the nowhere-near-as-good Jon Lovitz) sunk the sequel. Crystal took “just enough” and turned it into “too much.”
“Men In Black 2” made the exact same mistake. The original included a scene where Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith go to get information from an alien, a talking dog named Frank — a pug who was cute and funny. So, when it was time for the sequel, not only did the creators bring back Frank, but they increased his screen time, making him Smith’s partner in several scenes, and at one point singing “I Will Survive.” Director Barry Sonnenfeld recently admitted this was a mistake, and said he’d vowed not to make the same error with the third movie.
He didn’t. “MIB3” gets the series back on track. Except for the worm-like aliens at MIB headquarters reappearing in quick cameos, none of the other supporting cast shows up. That leaves plenty of room for the time travel story — in which Josh Brolin does a perfectly dry impression of a younger Tommy Lee Jones — and for the movie to return to the original “MIB” concept of good special effects and witty banter.
My only complaint about this one is that my wife and I wasted money to see it in 3-D. I’ve never been a fan of the technology, and not just because I have to wear the 3-D glasses over my prescription glasses. It’s that the effects don’t seem that much more spectacular, just an excuse to have pointy objects come hurtling at the screen. The villain in “MIB3,” well-played by Jemaine Clement, thwarts his enemies by launching deadly spikes from his hand. Naturally, we get a lot of POV shots of those spikes coming right at us, but they’re unnecessary and irrelevant to the plot.
Of course, if Hollywood follows its usual pattern, those 3-D spikes will be elevated from their role as a supporting special effect and become central to the plot of “Men In Black 4: Curly’s Alien Invasion.”