It's been a decade since the last "Men in Black," and time has not been good to the franchise.
"Men in Black 3" shows the lack of energy of an aged film franchise made even more cinematically wrinkled by a plotline that includes the always tricky twist of time travel.
Happy-go-lucky Agent J (Will Smith) and his cantankerous partner, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), are going about their business dealing with rogue aliens -- the kind from other worlds -- who are causing trouble. Their partnership comes to an abrupt end when a world-killing alien known as Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) breaks out of a lunar prison, gets his hands on a time travel device and goes back to 1969, where he kills Agent K.
This sets off a temporal displacement that's more of a headache than a clever plot device.
Agent J heads back in time to stop the killing. Here's the problem with time travel: If Agent J saves Agent K, then there's no reason for him to go back in time. But, if he doesn't go back in time, Agent K dies and he needs to go back in time. This can go on forever. This is why time travel is always a problem.
The time travel happens, and director Barry Sonnenfeld has to deal with it. The leap would have been better had he at least spent more time making fun of the conventions of the late '60s. There's a funny bit with Andy Warhol, but the rest of the story could have been set in any time period.
The only good that comes from the leap is that Josh Brolin takes over the role of Agent K in 1969 and does a masterful job mimicking the curmudgeonly nature of the character. Brolin's performance is interesting for a little while, but even the casting twist lacks staying power.
Smith gives his best effort, but the dark and offbeat humor that made the first two films a success has faded away over the decade. The best the screenwriters -- Etan Cohen, Michael Soccio, Jeff Nathanson and David Koepp -- have to offer is a few variations on jokes from past movies. There are a few good special effects, but overall, the movie is uninspired.
If this is the best that can be done with the franchise, then it's obvious the time for "Men In Black" has come and gone.
"Black" is back, but it's basically bland.
"Men in Black 3," rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence, suggestive material. Stars Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Alice Eve, Emma Thompson. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Running time: 105 minutes. Grade: C- Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.