By John Bei­fuss

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - / bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­

PER­HAPS RE­FLECT­ING A na­tional yearn­ing for the type of uni­fy­ing hero­ism and epic achieve­ment rep­re­sented by the space pro­gram, “Men in Black 3” is the sec­ond film in as many years to in­cor­po­rate the Apollo 11 moon land­ing into its sci­ence-fic­tion re­write of his­tory.

The first was “Trans­form­ers: Dark of the Moon,” a Gar­gan­tua that de­voured $200 mil­lion in pro­duc­tion costs and 154 min­utes of the life of any movie­goer will­ing to watch. Now comes “Men in Black 3,” a long-ges­tat­ing and trou­bled project that re­quired a stag­ger­ing $375 mil­lion to make and mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to the Los An­ge­les Times.

The re­sult is one small step for cinema, one gi­ant leap for creative ac­count­ing. For­tu­nately, the bud­get bloat, for the most part, isn’t ev­i­dent on­screen, which makes “Men in Black 3”— which runs an eco­nom­i­cal 104 min­utes — some­thing of a nov­elty, in com­par­i­son to other re­cent comic-book-style would-be box- of­fice bo­nan­zas.

Like its lively pre­de­ces­sors, “Men in Black” (1997, 98 min­utes) and “Men in Black II” (2002, 88 min­utes), this third com­edy-ad­ven­ture about the con­ser­va­tively dressed se­cret agents who pro­tect earth from in­ter­fer­ing ex­trater­res­tri­als is nim­ble and rel­a­tively light­hearted. Re­turn­ing di­rec­tor Barry Son­nen­feld (“The Ad­dams Fam­ily,” “Get Shorty”), whose pen­chant for witty car­toon­ish vi­su­als is more Mad mag­a­zine than Michael Bay, may be the least self-in­dul­gent of any mod­ern di­rec­tor of fran­chise block­busters: He needs less than two hours to take view­ers from the Earth to the moon, from Coney Is­land to Cape Canaveral, and from the 21st cen­tury to July 16, 1969, the his­toric day when Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins were rock­eted into space, while (ac­cord­ing to the movie) Agent K, Agent J and a fang-faced “Boglodite” bat­tled on the launch pad.

In­spired by the comic-book se­ries by Low­ell Cun­ning­ham, “Men in Black 3” (the switch from Ro­man to Ara­bic nu­mer­als is in­tended to re­mind view­ers the movie is avail­able in un­nec­es­sary 3D) opens at a max­i­mum-se­cu­rity lu­nar prison, where ill-tem­pered and one-armed Boris the An­i­mal (Je­maine Clement), the last sur­viv­ing Boglodite, is freed from his max­i­mum-se­cu­rity cell by a comely fe­male as­so­ci­ate. (In a nice vis­ual gag typ­i­cal of Son­nen­feld, the zip­pers on the back of the alien woman’s thigh-high boots ex­tend down the spikes of her high heels, sug­gest­ing she has truly odd-shaped feet.) Boris — who re­sem­bles a Hell’s An­gel, if a Hell’s An­gel had an un­set­tling spiky spi­der liv­ing sym­bi­ot­i­cally in­side the stig­mata of his re­main­ing hand — heads to Earth to ex­act vengeance on his ar­rest­ing of­fi­cer, Agent K, the la­conic Man in Black who is men­tor and part­ner to wise- crack­ing young Agent J.

De­scribed by J as “sort of

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