An innocuous sci-fi action comedy works hard to gain traction on its Back To The Future premise and its lead stars - Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agents J and K. A sharp production with a devious, if slightly tangled script (perhaps some scenes have been left on the cutting room floor during its gestation) credited only to Etan Cohen to accentuate the bond between the slick, nattily attired agents has some decent set-pieces using locations like Coney Island, Shea Stadium and Cape Canaveral. Maybe the dry wit of what looks to be the end of a very intermittent franchise just can't capture its cool, pulsating outrageous rhythms, especially the excitement and fun of the 1997 original which made better use of its costars, especially Vincent D'Onofrio and Linda Fiorentino.
Even so, the second sequel of a Barry Sonenfeld helmed franchise, Men In Black 3, should please its fans more than its first one (a decade ago which may explain how it churns and strains to reach an optimal gear though moving at an agreeable clip) getting them back into the mood with some neat camerawork (Bill Pope), sleek production designs (Bo Welch) and wonderfully creative aliens (Rick Baker).
In this episode (the longest of the series) J learns that his unhappy partner has been dead for some four decades or so and that vicious alien criminal Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement of Dinner For Schmucks)("it's just Boris") has transported himself back to 1969 to stop K from capturing him in order to take over Earth (a familiar strand from recent summer blockbusters). A strangely obsessed J wants to go after the escapee from a high security lunar prison. He has to convince his new boss O (Emma Thompson) since the passing of Rip Torn's Agent Zed to let him do it and then get the younger K (a fine piece of casting in Josh Brolin, who as a 16-year-old was making his debut in what would be a cult hit, the Steven Spielberg-produced Goonies) up to speed. And, afterwards get the cooperation of another alien, Griff (Michael Stuhlbarg) with the ability to see multiple versions of what lies ahead to prevent both versions of Boris from eradicating K.
Danny Elfman's memorably inflective score is a welcome even if the writing and direction don't seem to be on the same plane as the costumes and the era itself isn't quite evocatively inspired. The snap between Smith and Jones in the opening works off the trust between the actors with disparate stylings but is hardly as infectious this time around with wacky hilarity popping up sometimes in sublime fashion.
Sonnenfeld doesn't let some scenes go as far as they might including the early escape by Boris which includes Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger in full dominatrix gear carrying a cake. What's set up in the opening reel or so will come up later including a somewhat unanticipated (and not so successful) attempt at pathos turns out to be broadly rendered so as not to produce emotional magic off of it like Robert Zemeckis did in the Michael J. Fox/Christopher Lloyd 1985 summer smash.
While Smith may not be as likable as in his earlier incarnations of one of his favorite characters and ones like the buddy-comedy Hitch there are good moments opposite his costars, especially with Brolin (playing the 29-year-old version of K even though he's about Smith's age) who stands out in doing what is more than a clever impersonation of a sadly sidelined Jones with a younger and less crotchety version of the character. One that, for some, might bring some clarity to the unique connection between J and K.
A couple of raids, one at a Chinese restaurant and the other, more prominently, at Andy Warhol's factory turn out to be more entertaining than the unsuspenseful, bolting climax; the former provides most of Jones's screen time and the latter making Stulbarg's goofy character arguably the film's highlight as well as Andy Warhol (Bill Hader) having a certain special status. As in so many of the hugely big-budgeted features the common 3D format is pointless even though it gains attention from Apollo 11 before it takes off for the first landing on the moon and a breathtaking aerial shot atop Manhattan's Chrysler Building.
Probably this time continuum stuff is a little warped and distills the overall humorous impact of what engages with ideas to intrigue and interest while smoothing out the edges too much which includes an easily identifiable, informant military officer. Too bad there wasn't more allotted for the talented Thompson and Alice Eve as the younger O as one could imagine romantic inclinations between O and K or to allow Clement to show his comedic flair. Will Arnett turns up in a K-free realm as J's partner in a promising, if unfulfilled appearance. But, Sonnenfeld (who finally pushed the long production to its completion) who knows that exposing Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga in otherworldly form is a little old in the tooth still offers an undemanding, complaisant time at the multiplex even if the jokes are nebulized beneath the black-suited heroes.