Men In Black (1997)

The premise of *Men In Black* is that the whole UFO-extraterrestrial-Roswell-Area 51-government conspiracy hooha is really just an immigration problem. Aliens walk among us every day (primarily in New York City, naturally), and it's up to the mysterious men in black, those legendary maestros of cover-up and confabulation, to keep tabs on them. The MIBs run a secret customs check-in point (where aliens must declare all fruits and vegetables) in their secret headquarters which is full of secret technology. Aliens who mind their own business and obey the laws can roam freely and live like any other earthly creature (they aren't all disguised as humans, mind you); those who make trouble get trouble in return.

Based on the cult comic book by Lowell Cunningham, *Men In Black* is hip, cool and funny, a weird but effective mixture of comedy and sci-fi, with a witty script by Ed Solomon, spectacular production design by Bo Welch (*A Little Princess*, *Edward Scissorhands*) and aliens and nifty gadgets galore.

Tommy Lee Jones is the unflappable Agent K, an experienced alien-chaser who is on a first-name basis with all the local out-of-towners. K is sort of a high-tech, highly effective parole officer -- he knows where all this subjects are at all times, he knows which ones can grow a new head if necessary, and he sanguinely saves the world on a daily basis. Will Smith is Agent J, K's hand-picked recruit, having a wild first day on the job after a Bug, the meanest, nastiest, ugliest, most ill-tempered alien in the universe, crashes to Earth and steals the skin of Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio), an equally ill-tempered and ugly farmer from upstate New York. The Bug scares the bejeebers out of every upstanding alien in town as he staggers around in his ill-fitting Edgar suit in search of a much-coveted trinket. Earthlings live in blissful ignorance of the alien infestation, thanks to the MIBs, who erase all evidence of ETs, and erase the memories of all witnesses.

Deftly directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (*Get Shorty*), *Men In Black* is a breezy little comedy cleverly disguised as a big sci-fi adventure, a hipper, cooler *Ghostbusters* that trades on our mania for paranoia. Overstuffed with special effects and big stunts, *Men In Black* also brims with winking pop culture references (Isaac Mizrahi and Sylvester Stallone are both aliens!) that poke fun at both science fact and fantasy while explaining a whole lot of weird things, like microwave ovens. *Men In Black* is a slick, stylish, poker-faced barrage of cultural silliness mixed with slapstick comedy and cartoonish action. It posits a world where aliens are generally a friendly, likable bunch, far from the menacing, abducting, orifice-probing greys of modern legend -- these aliens, like other immigrants, aren't here to undermine governments, morals or economic systems, they aren't here for our women, and they aren't especially interested in amateur proctology. They want jobs, cars and Air Jordan sneakers, just like everybody else.

Jones is dead-on perfect as the deadpan, coolly professional K. Smith plays J with a familiar cocky swagger and goofy bewilderment. Together, they make a classic old cop/young cop, straight cop/wild cop, straight arrow/loose cannon team, but with a twist. Smith is a smart-alecky goofball who winds up playing straight man to Jones as he steals every scene, never revealing the tongue in his cheek. Linda Fiorentino is smart and funny as Dr. Laurel Weaver, the coroner who notices something is amiss when dead aliens land on her slab. As top MIB Zed, Rip Torn, who always seems on the verge of an outburst, remains collected and nonchalant even as the world is on the verge of annihilation. A ginger tabby plays a pivotal role in saving the planet, not unexpectedly.

*Men In Black* is a smart little comedy painted on a galaxy-sized canvas. The sets are huge, the stunts are huge, the aliens are huge, but the idea is rather slight, a tasty little nut in the center of a gigantic box of eye candy. *Men In Black* is enjoyable and entertaining through and through, right up to a devilishly twisted final scene that is both thought-provoking and smile-inducing.