BAXTER — If you thought the world could not get any stranger, guess again.

“Men in Black” returns to the big screen at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. The 1997 science fiction movie starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones was a box office hit and spawned two sequels and the “Men in Black: International” spin-off that was released last year.

The odd couple pairing of the inexperienced Smith and veteran Jones tasked with “protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe” as part of a super-secret government agency provides much of the humor in the action-adventure film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.

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Loosely based on “The Men in Black” comic book series by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers, the PG-13 movie revolves around a covert organization called the Men in Black who police extraterrestrial lifeforms on Earth and hide their existence from people.

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Dressed in black suits, wearing black ties and sporting black sunglasses, the energetic Smith and stoic Jones play off one another in the film as the younger agent plays fast and loose while the seasoned enforcement officer goes by the book.

The oddball energy of the movie is what I remember and loved the most about the film, which featured the creature effects and makeup of the famed Rick Baker, who won an Oscar a record seven times for best makeup, with visual effects by George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic.

The observation towers of the 1964 New York World's Fair New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows disguise two real flying saucers in the 1997 science fiction movie "Men in Black" starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash.com
The observation towers of the 1964 New York World's Fair New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows disguise two real flying saucers in the 1997 science fiction movie "Men in Black" starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash.com

Smith plays New York undercover police officer James Darrell Edwards III who gives chase to a surprisingly fast suspect who is really an alien in disguise. The dogged pursuit by Smith impresses Agent K played by Jones, who recruits the bewildered Edwards into the organization.

Edwards agrees to join the Men in Black and upon his acceptance, his civilian identity and personal history are erased and he becomes simply Agent J, Agent K’s junior partner who has to be shown the ropes but who is not without inherent skills and talents given his youth.

Their first major challenge as a team is when they investigate a couple of killings of alien refugees by a cockroach-like alien who illegally lands in New York, kills a farmer and uses the human’s skin as a disguise before going on a murderous rampage in search of a device.

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Agents J and K proceed to the morgue to examine the corpses of the two aliens that the bug-like alien, played to much comedic effect by Vincent D'Onofrio, who tries to remain unassuming even as his mannerisms single him out and his fleshy disguise begins to rot.

The agents team up with the unassuming coroner played by Linda Fiorentino, who suddenly becomes involved in the pursuit of the coveted device, which is actually a massive energy source housed in a small jewel that could spark a war and have devastating consequences.

The beloved film series features an unmistakable score by noted composer Danny Elfman, who has provided the music for other fantasy and horror films by director Tim Burton such as “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

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The plot’s central element — we are not alone in the universe and there are unusual or unexplained things happening all the time — has a universal appeal, I suspect, with moviegoers who flocked to see it in theaters when it was originally released.

Agent K says, “We are the best-kept secret in the galaxy. We monitor, license and police all alien activity on the Earth. We’re your first, last and only line of defense. We live in secret, we exist in shadow.” And Agent J adds, “And we dress in black.”

The talkative, diminutive and fleet-footed pug in “Men in Black” steals a lot of the scenes in the movie. The extraterrestrial in disguise continues his role in the Men in Black franchise, with mouthy appearances in the 2002 sequel and 2019 spin-off, as well as the animated series.

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Released by Columbia Pictures, the 1997 major motion picture grossed more than $589 million worldwide against a $90 million budget and currently has a 92% certified fresh rating on the movie ratings aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes and 79% approval rating from audiences.

The movie spawned two sequels: “Men in Black II” in 2002 and ‘Men in Black 3” a decade later, the spin-off “Men in Black: International” in 2019 starring Chris Hemsworth of “Thor” fame in the Avengers film franchise from Marvel, and a 1997–2001 animated TV series on the Kids’ WB.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.