‘Men in Black: International’ is an unfunny buddy-cop flop


There are more than one billion trillion stars in the observable universe. “Men In Black: International,” however, gets only one.

A cautionary tale for the age of reboots, “International” takes over from a perfectly good comedy film series, and turns it into witless, generic space debris. It is the “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” of “MiB” — but somehow the aliens here are even worse.

The original 1997 film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld began with a smart premise: that the weirdos who give New York its edgy atmosphere are actually extra-terrestrials having trouble acclimating on earth. Aliens are all around us, but we’re too obsessed with our MTA delay to notice. It’s the job of the discreet Men in Black organization to keep the visitors at bay.

That clever idea was then paired with one of the best buddy-cop duos of the ‘90s, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, who had comic chops, star-wattage and chemistry. We want them back!

Because there’s nothing to like in director F. Gary Gray’s film. Not its unfunny leads with wax-paper-thin back-stories. Not its rendering of should-be exciting international cities such as London, Paris and Naples into interchangeable stages for martial arts fights. Definitely not Liam Neeson. Nothing.

The Smith and Lee Jones here are Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, but it turns out those patent leather shoes are hard to fill. The actors would both make very nice AirBnB hosts, but you can’t hang an action comedy on dreamy smiles.

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Thompson’s character Molly is an unimposing, twenty-something Brooklynite who, as a young girl, witnessed the Men in Black handling an alien altercation. She never forgot it and became obsessed for life. Her family and friends think she’s loopy.

Molly tried and failed to get into the FBI, thinking the MiB was a secret branch. But one day, she successfully sneaks into the MiB headquarters and convinces Agent O (Emma Thompson, one of several check-cashers here) to give her a probationary gig. She becomes a top-secret intergalactic cop faster than some people become interns at Condé Nast.

This is where the “International” bit comes in. Molly — now Agent M — is sent off to the London office, led by High T (Neeson, comatose) where she winds up meeting Agent H (Hemsworth), a womanizing James Bond parody.

Together, H and M (this movie is dumb enough that H&M might be product placement) protect a gemstone-like weapon from getting into the hands of The Hive, a dangerous group of aliens that are never properly explained.

Speaking of aliens, the otherworldly creatures in “International” pale in comparison to the originals. Remember Vincent D’Onofrio as a giant cockroach? Or Tony Shalhoub as a sleazeball who can regrow his head? The best we get here is a CGI Smurf-thing called Pawny, a guard who protects his species’ queen. He joins H and M on their journey, while making awful wisecracks about “The Notebook.”

Even Lara Flynn Boyle as a houseplant was better.