Comedy and Sci-fi have never been happy bedfellows. Han Solo may have been a dab hand at a passing quip and E.T. could gurgle on cue, but on the whole, sci-fi has always taken itself a bit seriously (there's hardly a slew of choice rib-ticklers in the frosty dystopias of Blade Runner or Alien). It takes the bona fide black comic arts of Addams Family-helmer Sonnenfeld, and a quite miraculously fabulous teaming of Tommy Lee Jones with Will Smith to buck the trend.
It's more of a complete reversal, this alien-bashing B-movie comedy is the rock'n'roll cinema experience of the summer. It's sci-fi and it's funny. Really funny. Based on a little-seen Marvel comic, the theme is a trippy twist on McCarthy paranoia as an ultra-secret government agency; jet-black suits, impenetrable Ray-Bans as standard (hence Men In Black) round up the illegal aliens hanging around Planet Earth. Aliens as in bug-eyed, slime-dolloping visitors from outer space. In this case with the joyous help of the creature-cooking talents of Rick Baker, they come flippered, polypoid, micro-sized, dog-shaped, and, particularly in the cranky form of a giant interplanetary cockroach with a bad attitude, bent for much of the film into Vincent D'Onofrio's human cossie.
But as showy as the "visitors" are (and D'Onofno's gross big-bug getting riled whenever humans splat his insect buddies is inspired ugliness) the film rests on the actors and their crackling dialogue.
Yes, this is a big budget event movie not relying on its effects. It's the unexpected chemistry between seen-it-all Agent K (Jones) and whippersnapping new recruit Agent J (Smith, clearly cast for all the Will Smith "vibe" he can muster) that makes MIB sing. Trailing the malevolent roach, through a bemused New York, their cool doesn't slip for a moment and a groovy buddy-buddy double act of wise-cracking, deadpannery and big gunned science-friction soars.
Sonnenfeld keeps it all bubbling along with a vibrant, comic book buzz. Which at times does grate, he could pause for some better exposition, perhaps try his hand at developing the characters beyond the snappy 60s TV spy-cool riff and give all the weird concoctions a chance to breathe (how rare it is to cite a film for being too short). And it doesn't even pretend to have depth. But with the added bonuses of Rip Torn as a Mr. Waverly-esque commander (Agent Z, resident at the alien-popping techno headquarters-cum-immigration control), the dead sexy Linda Fiorentino dragged into the chase, Danny Elfman's hip tunes and the best hardware of any movie, anytime, anywhere, there are no excuses for MIB avoidance.