DIRECTED BY BARRY SONNENFELD
For a film with an opening act as consistently cringeworthy as Men in Black 3‘s, it takes some cheek to feature one character schooling another on the fundamentals of comedy. “The prerequisite for a joke,” Will Smith’s Agent J declares to a colleague, “is that it be funny.” This after J and partner K (Tommy Lee Jones) have visited a Chinese restaurant whose proprietor—hilariously—pronounces r’s as l’s, and where Smith himself dusts off his Big Book of ’90s Disses to zing an ugly alien with “You must be from the planet daaaaaaamn.” In short: pot, kettle, man in black.
Meanwhile, though a finished screenplay isn’t technically a prerequisite to begin shooting a major motion picture, we imagine they typically come in handy. And yet, to take advantage of tax incentives, Men in Black 3 went into production without one. It’s therefore little surprise that the resulting plot—which sees J travel to 1969 to protect a young K (Josh Brolin) from an alien assassin (a wasted Jemaine Clement)—is perfunctory, predictable, and more than a tad incoherent.
Still, at least the time travel mechanic means there’s only minimal interaction between Smith and Jones. Once the series’ acerbically flippant foundation, their banter here feels utterly forced, and matters improve markedly when the actual Jones exits to make way for Brolin’s uncanny Jones impersonation. Bill Hader and Michael Stuhlbarg also briefly enliven the ’60s scenes, but it’s a measure of the film’s general mediocrity that its biggest laughs arrive courtesy of the unintentional resemblance between a piece of retro MIB kit and Mr. Garrison’s phallus-operated monowheel.