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.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Top Story: Queer Quintet To Get Raises
NBC-owned Bravo is close to signing a fabulous renewal deal for a second season of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. A source told The Hollywood Reporter the show's creators are negotiating with the network for an order of about 40 episodes. The show's "Fab Five"-- Carson Kressley, Thom Filicia, Jai Rodriguez, Ted Allen and Kyan Douglas--are also close to completing a deal that calls for six consecutive one-year contracts with 5 percent annual raises. According to contracts made available on the Smoking Gun Web site, the five signed on to the Queer Eye for the measly sum of $3,000 each per episode. Bravo had already ordered as many as seven additional episodes that are expected to go into production next week, according to the Reporter.
Fox Sued Over Gentlemen
Producer Martin Poll and screenwriter Larry Cohen filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court accusing 20th Century Fox of stealing their ideas for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen starring Sean Connery. The movie is based on a comic book in which the main characters, including Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Capt. Nemo and Dracula vampiress Mina Harker, were lifted from the pages of Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Bram Stoker and other writers whose copyrights have entered the public domain. According to The Associated Press, Cohen and Poll say they discussed a similar idea with Fox executives in 1993, only then the movie was called Cast of Characters. The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $100 million.
Zeta-Jones Sues Cosmetic Company
Catherine Zeta-Jones filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court seeking $15 million from the cosmetics firm Caudalie for running an ad campaign claiming the actress "was spotted buying the complete Caudalie range of skincare" and had used the company's anti-aging spa in Las Vegas, the AP reports. The Chicago Oscar winner says in her lawsuit that she has never purchased such products, nor did she receive services from the spa. Zeta-Jones, who has an exclusive deal to promote Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, claims the company had no right to use her name in promotions.
Bruce Willis Entertains Troops in Iraq
Bruce Willis and band the Accelerators entertained hundreds of soldiers Thursday night in Telafar, Iraq, about 35 miles from the Syrian border. Willis, sometimes sporting a military hat or a military jacket over his sweat pants, sang mostly oldies as he and his band stood atop two flatbed trailer trucks, the AP reports. Most soldiers said they didn't know Willis was a singer and had a band, but they reportedly liked what they heard. "He's my favorite actor and my age," Col. Michael Linnington, commander of the brigade's "Iron Rakkasans"--the 187th Infantry Regiment. "He's a macho actor. Soldiers identify with action movies and action actors. He's a guy's guy."
Sky TV Gets Bill From London Police
Magician David Blaine, who has suspended in a box from a crane above the River Thames in London in his quest to go 44 days without food, is proving to be a costly affair for his sponsor. Sky television, the network filming him, has been hit with a bill from the capital's police force. According to Reuters, London's police chief Sir John Stevens said Thursday the circus surrounding the stunt had become so expensive to police he would now make the stuntman's sponsors foot the bill. Blaine's scheduled to climb down from the box October 19.
Madonna's English Roses Tops Best-Seller List
Madonna's children's book The English Roses, which was published simultaneously around the world Sept. 15, will top The New York Times' children's list for the Oct. 5 edition, the AP reports. According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales in the United States, Madonna's book sold 57,369 copies in its first full week, ranking No. 5 overall. The top seller was Dr. Phil McGraw's The Ultimate Weight Solution, which sold 215,536 copies.
Role Call: Will Farrell To Voice Man in Yellow
Saturday Night Live alum Will Ferrell has signed on to provide the voice of the Man in the Yellow Hat for the animated big screen version of the children's classic Curious George. According to Variety, the Universal Pictures project will be an all-new adventure based upon the title character, an inquisitive monkey transplanted from the jungle to the big city by the Man in the Yellow Hat. The movie is slated for release Nov. 4, 2005.