There's a moment early on in "Men in Black 3" when Will Smith's Agent J sits down next to his longtime partner, Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K, and laments that he's too old for this sort of thing — for running around New York in matching dark suits, chasing down aliens and zapping them with their shiny metal weapon doohickeys.
We're paraphrasing a bit. But unfortunately, that's an excellent observation. We're all too old for this sort of thing — the shtick itself has gotten old, and it has not aged well.
Fifteen years since the zippy original and a decade since the subpar sequel, we now have a third "Men in Black" movie, which no one seems to have been clamoring for except maybe Barry Sonnenfeld, the director of all three. Long-gestating and written by a bunch more people than get credited, the latest film shows the glossy style and vague, sporadic glimmers of the energy that made this franchise such an enormous international hit. But more often it feels hacky, choppy and — worst of all — just not that funny. And it's in 3-D for no discernible artistic or narrative reason.
Smith and Jones don't seem to be enjoying themselves, either, in returning to their roles as bickering secret government agents.
Agent J is weirdly obsessed, after all these years, with determining why K is so surly. K, meanwhile, remains surly and reveals nothing.
But then one of K's adversaries from long ago, the growling, sharp-toothed alien Boris the Killer (Jemaine Clement of "Flight of the Conchords"), resurfaces and forces everyone to revisit the past. Literally. Boris busts out of the high-tech Lunar Max prison — with the help of his girlfriend, played by Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger clad in dominatrix gear and carrying a cake — to jump back in time and kill the young Agent K, who put him there.
Boris returns to the summer of 1969, a few days before the historic Apollo 11 moon mission, and takes out Agent K. Agent J shows up for work in the present day and wonders what happened to his partner; once he figures it out, he jumps back a bit earlier to kill Boris before Boris can kill K. It's all super-obvious fish-out-of-water stuff and gags about how ridiculous hippies looked.
"Men in Black 3" begins to address the possibilities of how it must have felt for a strong black man in America during this tense time for race relations, then backs off. There's also a brief, clever bit in which Bill Hader plays Andy Warhol that might have worked as a separate "Saturday Night Live" sketch. Again, opportunities squandered.
The best part of our trip to the '60s — the best part of the movie, period — is the arrival of the young Agent K. Josh Brolin channels Jones in eerily dead-on fashion.
As good as Brolin is, though, the novelty wears off quickly, and we're again left with the realization that there's no substance to the script (credited, for the record, to Etan Cohen). And all the familiar and rather flat comic elements lead up to a revelatory climax that comes out of nowhere and in no way earns the sort of heartrending emotion it aims to evoke from its audience.
'MEN IN BLACK 3'
Rating: 1 1/2 stars
Stars: Will Smith, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones
Info: Running time: 105 minutes
Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence and brief suggestive content)