Full of colour, sound and action, but totally bereft of dramatic weight and narrative flair, Men In Black II is the quintessential Hollywood sequel. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.
The original film, released in 1997, was a surprise smash. Obviously a big budget sci-fi action/comedy produced by Steven Spielberg and starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones was expected to perform well, but the extent of its success - box office receipts of almost $600 million, thus becoming the fifteenth biggest film of all time - was staggering to all concerned.
Funnily enough, it was this windfall that seemed destined to prevent the production of a sequel. The huge salaries and box office percentages that the stars, director and producer were demanding on the back of MIB's success seemed prohibitive to the studio. But five years and many negotiations later, we have a sequel that is essentially a rehash of its predecessor's winning formula.
Yup, the film's tagline - "same planet... new scum" - may as well read: "same plot, characters, gags, sets and music... a few new cast members."
One of these new additions is Serleena, an evil Kylothian monster disguised as a sexy(-ish) lingerie model who looks a lot like Lara Flynn Boyle. She's hunting around New York City for a precious alien artifact that could spell doom for the good people of Earth.
Agent Jay (Will Smith) is now a seasoned pro, a veteran of many skirmishes with hostile aliens and a master of battling said villains whilst leaving the general populace none the wiser. This is achieved by a mixture of stealth, subtlety and his trusty neuraliser, a device that wipes the recent memories of any witnesses to the Men In Black's extraterrestrial activities.
Unfortunately, the only man who can beat Serleena to her goal is Jay's former mentor Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), who at the close of the last film was neuralised (at his own request) and returned to his life as a postal clerk, free from the responsibility of protecting the planet from vicious monsters whilst having to live a lonely life in the shadows of society. When Jay brings Kay back into the fold and reinitiates him in the ways of all things MIB, it's time for our heroic duo to begin bickering, bonding, shooting and wisecracking their way to victory against Serleena and her hideous cohorts.
After it's over, you may feel like you've been neuralised yourself; the film is so lightweight that it's all but forgotten by the next day. But if you don't mind trading originality and depth for a handful of nice gags, two great leading performances (Smith and Jones still do a great wisecracking smartass/deadpan stick-in-the-mud routine), imaginative alien designs and a quick (eighty-four minutes!) bout of competent sci-fi fun, then Men In Black II is for you.
We're supplied with the expected 1.85:1 16x9 enhanced presentation. The image quality is perfect... perhaps a little too perfect. Like the first Harry Potter film and The Mummy Returns, a sharp and detailed small screen image brings some surprisingly dodgy special effects to the fore, without the expanse of the big screen or the distraction of video noise to disguise them.
Not that I'm complaining about the flawless nature of the transfer; I'm just puzzled by the amateurish nature of some of the effects, like the horribly fake second head on Johnny Knoxville's character and the poorly composited scene in which Will Smith rides atop a giant worm speeding through the subway.
But in all fairness, perhaps it's all part of the joke; Sonnenfeld intended to make a big and ballsy surrealist live action cartoon, not a serious sci-fi epic.
MIB II... sorry, MIIB boasts a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix that really can't be faulted. The surround speakers and subwoofer get an exhausting workout as spaceships zoom, lasers pulse, music blares, and bizarre alien thingamies make bizarre alien noises. The ever-dependable Danny Elfman reprises his score from the original - indeed, it often sounds note-for-note identical - and even Will Smith's end credits rap number is embarrassingly enjoyable.