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.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
A perpetually stoned delivery man named Leo unwittingly delivers a package of 10 kilos of high-quality cocaine to the apartment across the hall from its intended recipients who are anxiously awaiting its arrival. It winds up in the hands of a couple of inept crooks Brody and Guch who look at it as manna from God and set about to sell it to Brody’s drug dealing cousin and his accomplice. Meanwhile their neighbor Jesus and his clueless girlfriend embark on a desperate search to find their stash before the unforgiving drug kingpin who sent it to them finds out it’s missing.
WHO’S IN IT?
A game cast led by Donald Faison (who also produced) as the inept delivery man provide the laughs in this Tarantino-esque screwball farce. Faison is quite funny as the stoner Next Day Air worker who sets the dominoes in motion with Mike Epps and Wood Harris expertly playing the "dumb and dumber" hoods who think they’ve found nirvana in the coke-laden mystery package. Also making an impression are Cisco Reyes as the Puerto Rican dealer sweating out the missing box of drugs Yasmin Deliz as his girl and Omari Hardwick as the cousin looking to make the deal. Mos Def steals his brief scenes as a colleague of Leo’s and Debbie Allen is smartly sassy as Leo’s mother/boss. Emilio Rivera rounds out the principal cast as the intense and unforgiving drug lord.
With all these divergent characters focused on one very valuable package director Benny Boom has his work cut out for him but he merges the various lowlifes in and out of focus surprisingly well. Sure they’re all stereotypes but each gets their moments to amuse. This is not brain surgery and Boom knows that milking the silly situation for all the laughs it allows. Next Day Air is better than it has any right to be (if you check your brain at the door).
The film should have stayed with the comedy (ala Pineapple Express) instead of inserting unnecessary grainily-shot violent flashbacks to up the body part count. It’s as if a committee decided there wasn’t enough bloodletting and told the director to insert these pointless scenes. The inevitable final showdown also seems out of place with the light tone set earlier but does provide no end of irony in wrapping up all the loose ends.
For full enjoyment don’t try to make sense of the fact that a seasoned kingpin would send such a large parcel of illegal drugs through a commercial courier service. Obviously there would be no movie if he didn’t but last time we checked no one was using FedEx to ship heroin.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Either way. At a breezy 84 minutes Next Day Air is an agreeable timewaster.
The Medallion sort of reads like a recipe of other film genres: a heavy helping of buddy cop mixed with a dollop of the supernatural and a dash of the protect-the-mystical-child-with-special-powers scenario (i.e. The Golden Child). The plot isn't the reason you're sitting in the theater but you go along with it for appearances' sake. Eddie Yang (Jackie Chan) a skilled Hong Kong detective is teamed up with Interpol agent Arthur Watson (Lee Evans) a snippy control freak to catch an evil crime lord known as Snakehead (Julian Sands) who has done some nefarious deeds. Their investigation takes them to a sacred temple where Eddie ends up saving a Dalai Lama-like kid named Jai (Alex Bao) from Snakehead's clutches. The ruthless criminal wants the boy because he possesses a mystical medallion that has powers of immortality only he can control. Snakehead evenutally nabs the boy and takes him to Ireland. Det. Eddie follows the villain to Ireland where he reunites with the insecure Watson and his former flame Nicole (Claire Forlani) also an Interpol agent. Soon though Eddie gets a firsthand account the medallion's awesome force when after dying while rescuing Jai once again the boy and his pendant bring Eddie back to life transforming him into an immortal warrior with superhuman abilities. Unfortunately for him the same thing happens to Snakehead. In typical fashion Eddie and company must battle many of the bad guy's minions and then Eddie takes on Snakehead in a final otherworldly confrontation. It doesn't take the mental strength of a superhero to figure how things will turn out.
No matter how derivative The Medallion is Jackie Chan's in it so you know it's got to work on some level. This Chinese marvel who excels in acrobatics stunts and martial arts truly has the uncanny ability to take the most tired of plots and make them more palatable just by karate-chopping onto the screen with a giant smile on his face. Although the visibly aging Chan is more serious here than in recent efforts such as Shanghai Knights he still can't hide the fun factor he brings to his films. Luckily he has found a worthy comic foil in Evans (There's Something About Mary) whose bumbling antics smack of Rowan Atkinson's as Mr. Bean and who brightens up the film on more than one occasion. The only real drawback to Medallion is giving Chan a love interest. Yep our favorite martial arts boy gets to kiss the girl but almost makes us cry; unfortunately Forlani (Meet Joe Black) who holds her own with the stunts has zero chemistry with the actor as hard as she tries to make us believe Nicole really loves Eddie. When a love scene comes up you clench your teeth hoping it'll pass soon enough and get back to the action. Thankfully it does. Sorry Jackie but you should just stick to kickboxing the enemy instead of kissing the girls.
What if Chan could use his uncanny skills on a supernatural level? Just imagine the possibilities. The same thought surely must have crossed the minds of those bringing Medallion to life. The thing is does Jackie really need all those special effects to pull off what he already does so well naturally? Not really. Hong Kong director Gordon Chan (no relation) is known for his slick filmmaking style that stays true to the art of a kung-fu movie; Medallion has this spirit running through it and when Chan is fighting hand-to-hand the film is exciting. Yet once Eddie and Snakehead gain their mystical powers it suddenly lapses into Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon mode as the two foes fly through the air chase each other on top of trees and fight while dangling above ground. Ultimately these effects really don't do anything to elevate the film. In fact the camera is rather shaky the images gritty and at times it's hard to distinguish who is who. Gordon Chan should have just realized he didn't need all the highfalutin' gimmicks to make an enjoyable martial arts flick with the ever-nimble Jackie doing his stuff.