A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
As with Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman writers Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy delve into an another world seldom seen--in this case it's the world of folk singing. No not the folk music of Bob Dylan or Joan Baez but the countrified sappy kind whose popularity was at its height in the 1960s. The film starts when folk promoter Irving Steinbloom passes away leaving behind a legacy of music and a family of performers. His son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) decides the most fitting way to honor his father's memory is to organize a reunion concert with some of Steinbloom's best-loved musicians including: Musical genius Mitch (Levy) and his muse Mickey (Catherine O'Hara) the star-crossed duo whose music epitomized young love until circumstances tear them apart; the classic trio The Folksmen (Guest Michael McKean and Harry Shearer) whose records such as Hitchin' and Pickin' were endlessly entertaining for anyone able to punch a hole in the center to play them; and The New Main Street Singers lead by marrieds Terry (John Michael Higgins) and Laurie (Jane Lynch) Bohner a regrouping of the classic '60s group who became the most meticulously color-coordinated "neuftet" to hit the scene. Now for one night only in New York City's Town Hall these three groups will reunite and gather together to celebrate the music that almost made them famous.
The old gang is back and everyone is in fine form. Guest McKean and Shearer turn 360 degrees from their Spinal Tap personas as the insipid Folksmen but it's obvious these old friends know how to work the mostly-improvised material. As do Higgins and Lynch who get to do something completely different from their roles in Best in Show. As Terry and Laurie they certainly have a skewed view towards life living by the doctrines of W.I.N.C. (Witches in Nature's Colors) and Higgins and Lynch play it for all its worth. As the sensitive reclusive--and completely insane--Mitch Levy offers up a performance almost completely devoid of his usual funny mannerisms that is perfectly complimented by O'Hara as the second half of the estranged Mitch and Mickey. The best-performance award however goes to usual straight man Balaban who turns in the funniest bits as neurotic obsessive-compulsive Jonathan. The only sour note is Fred Willard whose portrayal of The New Main Street Singers' obnoxious manager Mike LaFontaine is unfortunately just obnoxious and not up to par with the rest of the cast.
Director Christopher Guest has certainly defined and cemented the mockumentary genre and with A Mighty Wind he adds to his already impressive canon. The film uses the same structure as Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show in that the story is centered around and culminates in a single public event. Yet Wind lacks the emotional fireworks the previous films possessed. Primarily most of the characters seem on the same note without much arc in their development rather than being wildly diverse. When they come together in the end it's almost anticlimactic. In that respect Wind is closer to a true documentary rather than a satirized version of one and it makes for a less fulfilling comedic experience. Sure there are plenty laugh-out-loud moments but it's not sustained. It also seems that some aspects of the movie never made it out of the editing room such as the whole back story regarding the original and current Main Street Singers that goes largely unexplored and unexplained. Perhaps the DVD release of Wind will give us a glimpse at what we missed.