Beyond adding to the synergistic loop of products selling products selling products, the appearance of a Burger King outlet inside the alien-policing headquarters in Men In Black II points to a more central problem with the franchise. Most of the original's fun came from discovering a clandestine underworld where space creatures and dark-suited celestial immigration officers battle over the fate of Earth. But now that the secret conspiracy extends to the pimple-faced fry cooks at a food court, the sequel officially has no surprises left in the bag. The only option, then, is to follow the safe, reliable path of other high-stakes franchises: more of the same, only more. The take-the-money-and-run spirit actually suits director Barry Sonnenfeld better than most, because he likes to push live-action to the frenetic clamor of a Warner Bros. cartoon, flooding the screen with visual jokes and one-liners, and ending before the audience checks its collective watch. Summer blockbusters are meant to be disposable entertainment, but Men In Black II seems to vaporize as it passes through the projector, offering less than 90 minutes of mixed pleasures, which the credits wipe away like the flash of the agents' "neuralizers." Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones jumpstart the same breezy chemistry of the original, but with their roles reversed: Smith is now the seasoned, cocky veteran, and Jones the naïve recruit. Neuralized into early retirement as a post-office clerk in Maine, Jones grudgingly reteams with his former partner when a Medusa-tentacled alien in a supermodel's body (a mirthless Lara Flynn Boyle) digs up a potentially apocalyptic secret from his past. With the help of some familiar faces—including Rip Torn as the head officer, Tony Shalhoub as a buck-toothed pawn-shop alien, and "Frank" the talking pug—Smith and Jones work the case in a city swarming with extraterrestrials. Like the superior Spider-Man, Men In Black II tries to get away with a theme about the loneliness of covert heroism, tacking on a romantic subplot involving Smith and an attractive witness (Rosario Dawson) he refuses to neuralize. Even Smith at his most charming and persuasive couldn't cover up such naked cynicism, yet Sonnenfeld wastes precious seconds trolling for sentiment anyway. At least he keeps his distance from the nonsensical plot, forging ahead on the strength of nonstop gags, a parade of Lucas-inspired Rick Baker creatures, and a few bright cameos, especially Patrick Warburton as an unseasoned agent and a terrific David Cross as a starstruck video-store clerk. None of it sticks, but with the door left open for a third Men In Black movie, the one advantage of forgetting everything is not knowing exactly what's coming two summers from now.

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