The aliens are back in 'Black'

By , Arts and culture correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Theater owners must be ecstatic about the latest installment of Men in Black, MIB II.

Not only is it a mere 81 minutes long, allowing for a full extra screening per day, but it has sped up the day when all we really get at the movies is one big concession-stand experience. That is one way of saying this short piece of summer fluff is not much more than eye candy.

There are lots of big, elaborate guns that look surprisingly like the backyard Super Soaker water guns that seem to get bigger and more convoluted each summer.

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The new MIB wheels, a souped-up Mercedes, are more high-tech, with one funny take on the auto pilot concept.

The obligatory alien parade around MIB headquarters is a visual treat, with lots of weird, gross visitors this time out, including a few sly cameos by, well, I don't want to spoil the surprise.

However, a lot of the gizmos and aliens from the first film are back. And why not, since this episode of MIB is a visit to Planet Familiar? Rip Torn continues as the unflappable Zed. Tony Shalhoub reprises his bit as Jeebs, the walleyed alien with the head that regenerates. Frank the Pug mugs his way through a much expanded canine role.

Barry Sonnenfeld and crew even managed to write MIB prototype Tommy Lee Jones back into the series, after letting him go back to his interrupted love life at the end of movie No. 1. In another of the film's tweaks on today's headlines, not only has Jones returned to a civilian life as a postman, but virtually everyone in his small post office is an alien.

The movie plays more like a cartoon episode than a feature film. If the plot were any simpler, it wouldn't exist. Lara Flynn Boyle plays Serleena, a nasty alien in a lingerie model's skin, as a baddie with a killer manicure. She's after a cool tool known as The Light, so she can take over the universe. Of course, it's stashed on earth somewhere. (Why is it always a pizza parlor?) They fight, alien goo gets spilled. Am I going too fast?

It's clear that everybody involved wants this franchise to roll on indefinitely. The one truly bright spot is the closing shot. If that is any hint of where Sonnenfeld is headed, then the future of the MIB story is in good hands.

But Sonnenfeld might want to reconsider the Will Smith character. Agent J was supposed to be top dog after episode No. 1, female trainee in tow. Instead, Linda Fiorentino is nowhere in sight, and Smith spends the film being upstaged by Frank, the best talking mutt the special-effects folks have created yet, not to mention chasing after Jones, begging him to be boss again.

All in all, this movie ought to carry the viewer warning: extra-lite movie calories, best consumed as a matinee snack to avoid feeling short-changed.

• Rated PG-13 for violence, and some provocative humor.

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