Some sequels aim to expand upon a story that has captured and enticed the world's imagination. Others seek to revisit characters that have become enduring favorites of the movie-going public. And still others, like Men in Black II, simply repackage the original and laugh at broke-ass film critics on their way to the bank.
The general story of the MIB saga, of course, remains the same: a secret society of sharp-dressing, pseudo-government agents protect the world from extra-terrestrial threats. Unfortunately, the similarities between installments 1 and 2 don't end there. Just about all the details have been mirror-imaged as well: Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) must track down a small but powerful alien artifact in order to prevent the destruction of the universe; an agent must be trained in the ways of the agency; a high speed chase finds Will Smith tossed around as his car turns upside down; and big silver guns are required to take down a slithery opponent in the movie's final battle. If those duplications aren't enough, they've even traded in lily white brunette Linda Fiorentino for lily white brunette Lara Flynn Boyle.
Still, in spite of this disturbing amount of repackaging, there are minor (and I do mean minor) differences between the two films that put this one just slightly ahead of its predecessor: Frank, the amusing talking dog, is more of a character in this sequel; Lara Flynn Boyle brings vixenous villainy to the franchise by dressing like a lingerie model while destroying the world; new aliens like the worm creatures round out a more entertaining cast of unearthly freaks; and Will Smith has a fair amount of comedic lines, including the instant classic, "Boy, you like forty years old!"
Hey, I didn't say these were big improvements.
Like the first Men in Black, the sequel's saving grace that keeps a jumbled story somewhat focused is the chemistry between its stars. In the tradition of the mismatched partners of buddy cop flicks, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones share a humorous love/hate relationship. Agent J takes several shots at his "old and busted" partner, making light of his postal job, screw-ups, and advanced age. And of course, such jabs always put a smile on my face since I'm a sucker for comedy at the expense of old folks (it's one of the only things that keeps me watching Adam Sandler movies).
Virtually all of the negative elements from the first film have also been carried over, most noticeably the strange need for a doofus alien bad guy. In the first movie, it was the grungy hillbilly; now it's MTV jackass Johnny Knoxville as Lara Flynn Boyle's two-headed monkey boy. A disappointing showdown in the final act has also been duped--it's a little more action-packed this time, but still doesn't come close to the universe-saving extravaganza it should have been. And the special effects are still not up to where they should be: some effects are first rate and seamless, while others are surprisingly shoddy. I'm talking "probably unintentional, obviously bluescreened" bad. A campy atmosphere is one thing, but sloppy work is quite another.
Regular viewers of The Practice may be put off by Lara Flynn Boyle's performance as the evil alien chick because she just acts so much like her Helen Gamble character. Not only is she still the bad girl, but she also...talks...and pauses and...enunciates...like she does...on The Practice...
Men in Black II is good for a quick cinematic diversion of the sci-fi comedy genre. And if you enjoyed the first one, chances are you'll enjoy the second one--after all, they're almost the same movie.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)