As far as sequels go to giant box-office hits from five years ago, "Men in Black 2" is an example of pure laziness on the part of returning director Barry Sonnenfeld (2002's "Big Trouble
") and new screenwriters Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro. Money was clearly the selling factor for Sonnenfeld's agreement to helm the follow-up, for he never quite figures out how to make much more than a loose remake of his 1997 predecessor. At the same time, the original "Men in Black
" was already an underwhelming, mediocre experience, and "Men in Black 2" offers a faster pace, a faster running time (81 minutes without credits), and a stand-in for the absent Linda Fiorentino in the form of the radiant Rosario Dawson (2001's "Josie and the Pussycats
"). Dawson is not playing the same person as Fiorentino, but the general story and character outlines are so alarmingly similar between the two pictures that they might as well be.
Just so audiences viewing the film in the movie theater are assured what they are watching is taking place in the present day, a title card at the opening reads, "July 2002." Nevermind that this decision will cause the picture to be out of date in less than a month. It is then that a tentacled alien form named Serleena comes to Earth and takes the form of a Victoria's Secret model. Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle) has only one mission: find the "Light of Zartha," whose power may mean the end of civilization. Hot on the case is MiB Agent J (Will Smith), assigned to find the Light before Serleena does and destroy her. The only problem is that the only person who knows where the light is hidden is old MiB Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), long since neuralized of his past memories and now living quietly as a postal worker. After convincing K to come back with him, J successfully de-neuralizes him and, together, they reunite as partners on the case.
Following an indelible, creepily funny introduction to villain Serleena and an early subway chase between the inhabitants of the train and a very hungry worm-like creature, "Men in Black 2" falls back into the patterns of the original. Obviously, little thought was put into developing an original new screen story. Director Sonnenfeld is content merely rehashing the first movie, giving the proceedings a "been-there-done-that" feel. The mercifully brief running time is either a result of thin material or an attempt to be over before viewers start questioning how very generic what they watching is.
Will Smith (2001's "Ali
") and Tommy Lee Jones (1999's "Double Jeopardy
") step with ease back into the shoes of the wisecracking Agent J and the deadpan Agent K. Smith and Jones' smooth, likable camaraderie remains intact, and their chemistry helps to carry us through the film without much pain. Once her saucy introduction concludes, alien villainess Serleena turns out to be a major disappointment. Aside from standing around spouting off threatening lines and poking people with her tentacled fingers and tongue, Serleena does not develop into neither a memorable nor menacing presence. The performance by Lara Flynn Boyle (1998's "Happiness
") is uninspired, at best.
Better is the aforementioned Rosario Dawson, as beautiful pizza clerk Rita, who gets involved in J and K when she witnesses her manager get skinned by Serleena. Even though the talented Dawson is not offered much to work with, and her budding romance with J plays like an afterthought, she still brightens up her scenes considerably. Less successful is Johnny Knoxville (2002's "Deuces Wild
"), criminally wasted as Serleena's two-headed henchman, Charlie. Knoxville cryptically disappears midway through, never to be seen or heard from again.
The rushed 10-minute climax is a hodge-podge of drearily executed chase sequences and stunningly lame plot twists. The final confrontation with Serleena is so throwaway as to be nearly nonexistent. "Men in Black 2" isn't a successful sequel, but it also could hardly be accused of being boring. Slight, mindless, and enjoyable on a superficial level, the film, ultimately, hits the target of what one would expect coming after a first movie that wasn't good to begin with.
©2002 by Dustin Putman