There’s a game I like to play with actors, called “How stupid do you feel”, in which I ask an actor how stupid they feel doing various things while filming a movie. Movies are shot in increments, so a lot of the action is done out of context, and I often wonder how stupid it feels to do certain scenes bit by bit like that. When it comes to MIBIII, I want to ask all the actors how stupid they felt doing the entire movie. At points, I was so embarrassed for everyone involved that I could not look at the screen. Especially Emma Thompson. Is she poor? Why was she in that mess? Even though her part was little more than a glorified cameo, I was so second-hand embarrassed for her. I felt like yelling, “We must free Emma!” every time she came on screen. I would have been similarly embarrassed for Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), but he’s still paying off his debt to society for participating in Gentlemen Broncos, so he doesn’t get the same consideration.
I mean, I suspected it would be a mess, and I’m not a super-huge fan of that franchise to begin with, but sweet hell MIBIII was not good. I’m going to lay the burden of the blame on director Barry Sonnenfeld, who might actually be a black hole of talent and ability. He hasn’t worked in features since 2006’s incredibly shitty RV, and I think MIBIII should be enough to guarantee another six years’ exile from the director’s chair. What makes me sad is that the movie sucks but not for lack of trying. Everyone is trying, it’s just so formulaic and poorly-written that there’s not much for the actors to work with, and the special effects, which are quite good, aren’t enough of a centerpiece so you could at least say, well, at least it looks cool. It’s just a paycheck movie—everyone is obviously there just to collect a paycheck.
The plot involves time travel, which is almost always a mistake, and revolves around Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones, sleepwalking) being killed in the past and so disappearing from the future, which prompts his partner Agent J (Will Smith, visibly plotting how he’ll spend MIB money on furthering his children’s careers) to travel back to 1969 to save a younger Agent K (Josh Brolin, the only thing worth watching). Brolin is the only consistently good part as his Tommy Lee Jones impression is spot-on, but he can’t alleviate enough of the stupid to make MIBIII worthwhile, except to say he does one helluva Tommy Lee Jones impression. The main problem is that it’s just not funny. These movies are supposed to be action comedies and MIBIII is a dry well of comedy. There’s just nothing there. For example, as J is preparing to time travel to 1969, he is reminded that 1969 “wasn’t the best time for his people”. Historically, Will Smith has not been a controversial actor, so the prospect of Smith engaging in some racism humor was intriguing. Unfortunately, after only a couple of riffs on a black-man-out-of-time—which were promising!—that angle is dropped entirely.
The only part of MIBIII that really works is the scene in which J and Young K visit Andy Warhol’s Factory. Bill Hader (SNL) cameos as Warhol, an undercover MIB agent. The scene is genuinely funny, especially as Warhol begs to be relieved of his assignment, saying he’s running out of ideas and has resorted to painting soup cans and bananas. It’s clever and Hader plays Warhol perfectly and his argument with J is the only conflict in the movie that actually plays as both funny and legitimately antagonistic. On the other hand, Clement’s villain, Boris the Animal, has a decades-old blood feud with Agent K that falls flat throughout the film. There’s just not any chemistry on display here, except for that which Hader generates, and it often feels like the actors are working completely independently of each other. Like they each went in and filmed their parts separately and then had their scenes spliced together. It’s a cold fish of a film.