The Men back in action, on track, Chernobyl Diaries is toxic waste

by Mark Burger

It was inevitable that time-travel would eventually figure in the sciencefiction universe of the Men in Black. Thus, it comes as little surprise that Men in Black 3 would be predicated on this genre predilection.

Once again, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones don the suits and shades of agents J and K, diligently monitoring any and all alien activities on our planet Earth. The threat this time, however, comes from the moon — from which nefarious interstellar menace Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes, bent on avenging his long-term incarceration on the agent that nailed him — Agent K.

By traveling back to 1969, Boris is able to rewrite history — eliminating K along the way — and effect a massive alien invasion in the present day. With K out of the picture, so to speak, J has to go this one alone — at least initially. In order to right the wrongs that Boris has wrought upon the past and present, J takes his own trip back in time, where he enlists the (admittedly wary) help of young K (Josh Brolin).

Much of the original creative team is back on board for Men in Black 3, including director Barry Sonnenfeld, executive producer Steven Spielberg, composer Danny Elfman, makeup and effects maestro Rick Baker and, of course, Smith and Jones, whose prickly camaraderie is in full bloom here. Brolin is a splendid addition to the roster, not only for his remarkable impression of Jones but also for a heretofore untapped knack for comedy — unless one counts his turn as George W. Bush. Alas, Rip Torn’s character has departed, but Emma Thompson — as the new boss of the Men in Black — gets to demonstrate her own comedic abilities in the role. Michael Stuhlbarg, Alice Eve and Bill Hader (as Andy Warhol!) add to the fun.

While the Back to the Future sequels tended to get bogged down in the minutiae of time travel, this film has much more fun with the concept, particularly when plunking J down in the summer of ’69, a culture as alien to him as any extraterrestrial. The special effects are, unsurprisingly, spectacular, and the pacing of the film is relaxed without being lackadaisical.

This is easily director Sonnenfeld’s best film in years, or at least since the original film. Since then, not including the sequel, his feature credits have been dire: Wild Wild West (1999), Big Trouble (2002) and RV (2006). Men in Black 3 is no bastion of screen art, but it’s ingratiating and inventive entertainment.

Unlike the second Men in Black film, which squeaked by — just — on the goodwill of its cast while basically reprising the first film, a bit more ingenuity’s been put into this installment, and the humor doesn’t seem nearly as forced. Men in Black 3 is like spending a good time with old friends. It works as a self-contained work while also bringing what is now a trilogy to a close in tidy fashion… which doesn’t mean that another sequel is out of the question.

In director Bradley Parker’s debut feature Chernobyl Diaries , some not-very-bright tourists decide to visit the abandoned village of Pripyat, located next to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which exploded in 1986. To do so, they ignore both armed guards and scores of signs warning of radioactivity.

From the outset, visiting Chernobyl is a stupid idea, on par with playing Russian roulette, and despite some decent hand-held camerawork and better-than-expected performances from its young cast, this is a stupid film, a fairly toxic collection of horror cliches that grows more tiresome with each passing moment.

Amid the barrage of big-budget seasonal blockbusters, Chernobyl Diaries is something akin to a studio throwaway, designed to make a quick killing at the box-office between other, (hopefully) better summer movies. This may be the only level on which the film succeeds, although it’s due less to artistic intent than studio hype. Those who crave gore will find their fill here, as the dwindling number of survivors must contend with wild dogs, wacky mutants and, in one instance, a bear. Clearly, this is not a vacation to write home about.

Like many recent horror films that possess some kernel of promise (those that don’t are hereby and summarily excused — as many are), Chernobyl Diaries might have worked as a segment in a multi-story anthology, but stretching the concept to feature length strains credibility and patience in equal measure.

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