Movie review: Men in Black 3

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From the May 24, 2012 edition

If, like me, you still spend many a restless night tossing and turning, overcome by the unanswered questions from 2002’s “Men in Black II,” the wait is over!

OK, so we film critics are notoriously surly about cookie-cutter summer blockbusters, especially unnecessary sequels. “You don’t get it!” people say. “It’s just dumb summer fun.”

Well, it’s hard not to be cynical about “Men in Black 3,” a sequel no one was exactly clamoring for from a star, director and studio all in desperate need of a hit. Still, I held out hope.

Here’s a lesson, kids. Sometimes cynicism beats hope.

If for some reason you’ve forgotten about this franchise during the past decade, here’s a refresher. Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) work for a secret agency that monitors and polices aliens secretly living on Earth.

We’re introduced to new super-baddie Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords”). How super-baddie is he? In the opening scene, he escapes from moon jail!

Boris had a run-in some decades ago with K that left him with approximately one fewer arm than he began with. Bent on revenge, Boris decides to travel back in time to kill the young Agent K and, presumably, save his limb.

Soon J must travel back in time himself, landing in 1969 and encountering his partner’s younger self (played by Josh Brolin).

The casting of Brolin is why I had hope. Jones’ “No Country for Old Men” cast mate does a pitch-perfect rendition of Jones’ grizzled grouch.

Despite that and a “fun if you don’t think about it” time-travel twist, “MiB3” is only passably entertaining if you need an excuse to sit in some air conditioning.

There are still quirky alien critters — created by legendary makeup artist Rick Baker — and one-liners and whatnot.

Also, there’s a tremendous sense of “been there, done that.” Smith hasn’t made a film in four years and hasn’t had a big hit in many more. He seems intent on reminding us why we like him. Or rather, liked him.

Brolin is great, but he relegates Jones to minimal screen time. I’ll admit I wanted to see them share a screen … somehow.

And before you bring up the “big summer fun” defense, let me ask you, was “The Avengers” not a hell of a lot of fun? Yeah, exactly.