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Men in Black

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Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

If you're looking for a movie that lampoons references to many other films and in particular, one t.v. show and if you're looking for an original and at times pleasantly shocking delight then 'Men in Black' is the movie for you. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld ('Get Shorty', 'The Addams Family'), 'Men in Black' stars Tommy Lee Jones as a secret undercover agent working to protect the Earth from 'the scum of the universe.' His elderly partner is about to retire and Jones' boss (Rip Torn) seeks a replacement and finds it in a sharp and clever NYC cop played in a gleefully daffy manner by Will Smith.

Based on the Malibu comic of the same name, 'Men in Black' works so well in particular because of Jones' deadpan and loosely charismatic performance as the agent who will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Aside from Smith in contrast to Jones' portrayal of the straight man is a campy and tongue-in-cheek story of an alien landing in upstate New York whose passenger is a giant insect, sort of a cross between a cockroach and an ant played by Vincent D'Onofrio who assumes the identity of a dead farmer and 'borrows' his skin and his presence could spell the end of the world for the Earth. D'Onofrio is hilarious as his haunting and wildly over the top performance is reminiscent of one of the zombies from 'Night of the Living Dead' (1968), (forget about the 1990 remake), and Linda Fiorentino rounds out the cast as a doctor with the coroner's office who becomes entangled in a strange autopsy she performs and discovers alien life on Earth.

The clever but not always instantly recognizable references to 'Pulp Fiction', 'The X-Files', 'Ghostbusters', 'The Blob' and 'Close Encounters' are funny enough to give 'Men in Black' extra marks for not making them so obvious and while it establishes an identity of its own, its ability to not takes itself seriously is what ultimately saves it.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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