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Creature fest Brolin's a blast as 'Men in Black' visits the past

Don't worry. If you're anything like me, you will worry at a certain point in "Men in Black 3."

It's my nature, and I know I'm not alone at the movies. About a half-hour into the film, Will Smith just didn't seem to be acting right. The lines in the scene weren't very good, and he suddenly seemed to force things while delivering them, as if he were saying "Damn it, I'm the most charming and lovable actor in movies, and if this sick puppy can't entertain people any other way, I'll hit 'em between the eyes with so much Will Smith they'll never notice how bad the script is."

I noticed. You may, too.

But, thankfully, not for very long at all -- not even close to long enough for you to abandon the third installment of Barry Sonnenfeld's "Men in Black" series. It really isn't that much less delightful than the first fantasy about steadfast cosmic cops in black suits and Ray-Ban shades protecting Earth from the yuckiest, squishiest and foulest assortment of critters routinely assembled in sci-fi comedy extravaganzas.

Kids love the critters. Who can blame them? Adults do, too, of course, but not as much. The monsters are all like madhouse sea creatures, runaways from the world of 1950s comic books just begging for a final balloon that reads "SPLAT!!!" Every time an especially yucky new creature showed up in the movie, you could hear giddy high-pitched giggles and squeals of delight all the way through the promotional preview audience.

It's not for nothing that the movie's second scene is an extended tour through the disgusting kitchens of Woo's Chinese Restaurant, which is full of examples of lackluster astral hygiene. It was great fun for one and all, even if those in the Chinese food industry may have qualms.

What kids won't give two hoots about, but adults will, is that the pairing of a frantic, gesticulating Smith and stonefaced Tommy Lee Jones remains one of those screen merriments that doesn't happen by accident but always looks as if it does. It took creative brains to come up with a combo as good as Newman and Redford, Tracy and Hepburn, and Bogart and Bacall.

What happened on basketball courts when Michael Jordan was coached by Phil Jackson in Chicago is what happens on screen when Smith as Agent J hangs out with Jones as Agent K.

What's way cool about "Men in Black 3" is that the plot of the hastily supplied script -- which began shooting without a finished script to qualify for New York State tax breaks, according to a story in Newsweek -- calls for Smith to jump off the Chrysler Building and go back in time to 1969 to rescue the younger version of Agent K from a one-armed, goggle-eyed bad guy named Boris the Animal. Boris -- whose eyes and dentition are a triumph of someone's '50s comics imagination, like those original, pre-satiric Mad magazine creatures -- wants to leave a cosmic door open for Earth to be invaded and conquered by some extraterrestrial species.

It's the triumph of "Men in Black 3," then, that Jones steps off the screen while Josh Brolin does one of those uncanny movie turns wherein he approximates a memorable performance by an older actor. (It was done with pure genius by Robert De Niro playing the younger version of Marlon Brando in "The Godfather Part II.")

While no one was looking especially hard, Brolin has repeatedly sneaked around the far turn and pulled way ahead in the stretch to make movie after movie a winner, whether it was "No Country for Old Men" or now this baby, with its price tag well north of $200 million.

People are going to enjoy the heck out of "Men in Black 3," shaky script and visible strain on Smith or no. That's in large part because Brolin is giving us Hollywood's newest and most impressive equivalent of a Triple Crown winner.




Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson

DIRECTOR: Barry Sonnenfeld

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

RATING: PG for yucky creatures, incinerated people and sci-fi violence.

THE LOWDOWN: Earth's secret agents in black suits have to go back in time to save the planet from an evil extraterrestrial plot.