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Men in Black 3

(2012) ** 1/2 Pg-13
106 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emma Thompson, Alice Eve, Bill Hader, Will Arnett, David Rasche.

/content/films/4337/1.jpgMen in Black 3 has no MSG. I mention this because many will probably want to make a meal of it and, it should be said, it's both pretty tasty and will leave you feeling hungry an hour later (if not sooner). A decade after the pointless and wan Men in Black II, the tired franchise strained to eke out a third installment, gaining a heap of bad press on the way for starting production without a script, then shutting down production for months to accomodate major rewrites. But take the attendant low expectations in with you, and you'll find an amusing diversion—but one that's probably not worth the nearly $375 million it cost Sony to get you in a seat watching it.

As per franchise formula, the film introduces a fearsome alien baddie whose nefarious plans, if successful, will result in a devastating alien invasion of Earth. This time it's Jemaine Clement as Boris the Animal ("It's just Boris!" he seethes), a one-armed Boglodite who wants revenge against the man who dis-armed him: Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Boris escapes a Lunar Max prison and sets into motion a plot to time-travel back to 1969 and kill Agent K. Loyal partner Agent J (Will Smith) goes in hot pursuit of Boris and, despite warnings to the contrary, entangles himself with a younger Agent K (Josh Brolin). It's not long before young K sees what old K saw in J, okay? With a little help from fifth-dimensional alien Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg)—who's capable of seeing all timelines at once—order can be restored to the timeline and to Planet Earth.

Not surprisingly, the piecemeal script—credited to Etan Coen but rewritten by David Koepp and Jeff Nathanson—is far from airtight in its time-travel mechanics, but cheerily deflects questions with jokes (such as pointing out how a 44-year-old Brolin is playing 29). Returning director Barry Sonnenfeld keeps the style consistent with snappy visual style (especially those signature wide-angles), snazzy Bo Welch production design, quirky Danny Elfman score, and alien make-up effects by Rick Baker.

Before you bust out with "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..." remember that this is Hollywood sequel-making, and everyone involved is savvy enough to "plus" the thing with the novelty of Brolin's droll approximation of a younger Jones, as well as a couple of clever ideas: the time-jump sequences have a touch of Coen Brothers visual wit, and Stuhlbarg winningly plays the Griffin character as an alien autistic savant (also: comic-timing kudos to Clement for his testy menace and Michael Chernus as the slacker-ish time-keeper).

Sadly, Men in Black 3 pays short shrift to its women, who appear to have been lost in the rewrites. This film's alien vamp (Nicole Scherzinger) doesn't stick around long, and after making a good first impression, Emma Thompson's top agent O makes way for her younger self (Alice Eve, given nearly nothing to do). For that matter, Jones sits out most of the movie, though Brolin keeps him in action, in spirit. The emphasis is on bright, colorful adventure (in 3-D, natch), with toy and video-game-friendly accessories (space-age bikes and '60s jet packs), but even the time-travel conceit is just a quick fix for a series that spent all its creative energy the first time out (okay, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are aliens: we get it).

Agent K's description of "the most destructive force in the universe...regret" competes with Griff's line "A miracle is what seems impossible but happens anyway" to define the film, but it's neither miraculous nor a disaster of sci-fi comedy. Men in Black 3 shows noticeable improvement from the previous outing, but all the same, let's hope the numbers confirm that Men in Black 4 is as fiscally as artistically unnecessary.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 11/30/2012

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony delivers Men in Black 3 to home video in a Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD combo pack that's reasonably impressive (apart from the curious lack of a Barry Sonnenfeld commentary). For fans of the film, the 3D is probably worth the extra dollars; though one should be forewarned that much of the post-converted film lacks in the 3D department, Sonnenfeld's wide-angle style suits 3D, the time-travel sequences get added thrills from the extra dimension, and a few other sequences get bedazzled with 3D pizazz, as when Boris' darts seem to break the plane of your TV or any time sci-fi displays leap up to put on a little light show. Casual adopters will be satisfied with the Blu-ray disc's stellar 2D transfer, which proves brighter and tighter than the 3D image. The 2D version is unequivocally top-notch, with reference quality sharpness and its own sense of depth; colors are bold, black level deep, and the picture filmically natural with light grain. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix likewise maxes out its source material with potent LFE and a winningly restless sound field that constantly percolates with lively scoring, immersive ambience, and science-fiction-y sound effects without ever overwhelming clarity of dialogue.

The Blu-ray 3D disc includes two bonus features: the interactive MIB Case Files feature The Case of Boris the Animal: The 3D Models of MIB 3 (3D HD), a navigable gallery with 360-degree turnarounds and data on the Particle Randomizer, the Class 2 Jet Pack, the Archanan Time Jumper, Boris' Motorcycle, and the Monocycles; and "Converting to 3D" (1:31, 3D HD), with visual effects supervisor Corey Turner providing an annotated demo of the 3D conversion process.

The Blu-ray 2D bonus features kick off with the shoot-'em-up game Spot the Alien (HD), but most will want to head for the meatier making-of featurettes. "Partners in Time: The Making of MIB 3" (26:24, HD), which efficiently (if shallowly) covers the bases of this sequel's inception, production, and post-production with set footage and talking heads.

"The Evolution of Cool: MIB 1960's vs. Today" (11:14, HD) gets more deeply into production design, particularly as it relates to the sexy '60s period in sets, costumes, props, and vehicles. "Keeping It Surreal: The Visual FX of MIB3" (10:26, HD), meanwhile, explores both CGI and practical (on-set, in-camera) special effects.

Six "Progression Reels" (17:37, HD) deconstruct sequences with a combination of audio commentary by animation supervisor Spencer Cook & VFX supervisors Ken Ralston and Jay Redd, raw footage, pre-vis animatics, test and wireframe animation, and other elements. Sequences covered: "MIB 3 Trailer," "Creating the Weasel," "Alien Fish," "Agent J Prepares to Time Jump," "Motorcycle Chase" and "Creating Cape Canaveral."

Four "Scene Investigations" (17:25, HD) featurettes cover "Lunar Prison Escape," "Showdown at Mr. Wu's," "J's Time Jump" and "The Motorcycle Chase."

Rounding out the extras are the now customary "Gag Reel" (3:54, HD) and "Music Video 'Back in Time' by Pitbull" (3:34, HD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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