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Originally published Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 12:03 AM

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Movie review

Comedy gets zapped in 'Men in Black 3'

"Men in Black 3," with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, has a nonsensical time-travel theme and has little to recommend it, says Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald, who adds that the franchise seems to have forgotten that it is supposed to be funny.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars

'Men in Black 3,' with Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emma Thompson. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, from a screenplay by Etan Cohen. 106 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and brief suggestive content. Several theaters.

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Like everything else, the use of time travel in a story is just a tool. You can have a... MORE
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@Salk who asked if the story was true: It was just swamp gas. Nothing unusual. MORE

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MOVIE REVIEW 2 stars

It's been 10 years since the last "Men in Black" installment, in which black-suited secret agents (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones) battle alien forces, so you may be wondering what thrilling, creative idea caused the filmmakers and stars to resurrect this franchise. The answer: none.

"Men in Black 3" not only has no reason to exist (other than the extra money to be gained by releasing a franchise film in 3D), but it seems to suffer from a weird sort of amnesia: Everyone involved seems to have forgotten that it's a comedy. It's not that there are no funny moments — Josh Brolin, playing a younger version of Jones' character, has a ball with TLJ's laconic rhythms, and Smith gets some laughs from a sequence involving a stolen car — but they're few and far between. Skilled comedians like Emma Thompson and Jemaine Clement (of "Flight of the Conchords") are squandered in roles that don't go anywhere.

The story this time — which, alas, includes no singing dogs (a highlight of "Men in Black 2," which tells you all you need to know about that one) — is some nonsense about time travel. Agent J (Smith) must transport himself to 1969 to help the young Agent K (Brolin) save the world from a very, very bad alien named Boris the Animal (an unrecognizable Clement). It's a convoluted plot that doesn't make much sense, but allows some sight gags involving Andy Warhol (Bill Hader), Nicole Scherzinger as Boris' very obliging girlfriend in the movie's prologue, and a lot of 1960s cars.

Thompson, as the new head of Men in Black (hmm), strides through the movie speaking in tones as crisp as burnt toast, but never saying much. Smith and Jones don't get much time to show off their usual repartee; Jones is barely in the movie, and his Agent K has become so deadpan he barely seems present.

For those looking for a reason to see this movie over the holiday weekend: well, the 3D effects are impressive, particularly a vertigo-inducing sequence in which Agent J jumps off the Chrysler Building; Rick Baker's alien makeup effects are first-rate (Boris, for example, constantly sprouts extra wriggling hands and feet); and director Barry Sonnenfeld deserves some credit for keeping the film to a relatively snappy 106 minutes. Otherwise — maybe just go see "The Avengers" again? You'll have more fun.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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