By John Beifuss
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