Men In Black II
dir. Sonnenfeld
Opens Wed July 3
Various Theaters

As you might expect, there are a handful of laughs in Men in Black II, the sequel that reunites Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as secret government agents protecting Earth from alien thugs.

And as you might also expect, those laughs are basically retreads of the same laughs filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld mined in the original: Smith cracking wiseass one-liners to menacing CGI creatures, entire universes fitting inside tiny objects, slimy monsters with funny accents that sort of thing. The problem is that the film is such a rehash that the actors and filmmakers can't hide their boredom. The humor is lazy and largely joyless, and when the picture ends (it's only 88 minutes long), you feel like you've just been told the same joke at two different parties.

The film does show signs of life, such as a good performance from the great Tony Shalhoub, a couple of inspired cameos, and an inspired sight gag or two. (I'd hate to get too specific since the highlights are so few, but there's a great bit near the end involving a plastic tube.) The rest of Men in Black II is an exercise in going through the motions. Smith does his ingratiating narcissism shtick, Jones shows up after half an hour and does his stony hound-dog routine, and digital spaceships crash in clouds of digital dust.

Lara Flynn Boyle's villain role is an excuse for her to walk around in fancy underwear during the whole movie (but she loves to eat!). The great Rip Torn looks like he's been propped up and lacquered with a paint sprayer. Rosario Dawson's character exists to affirm Smith's masculine virtues.

When Sonnenfeld & Co. are living up the B-movie aspects of the film's trappings--the sense of being there just to provide a foil for the special effects--Men in Black II gives you the momentary feeling that it was made by creative people with good senses of humor. But all their humor is self-aware, and self-directed. It's like the whole joke is that the movie was even made. I call that crass.