‘Men in Black III’; ‘Moonrise’; ‘Intouchables’: Movies

Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black 3." Photographer: Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures via Bloomberg

Flashing back to 1969, “Men in Black 3” has some fun with Andy Warhol’s wig, Coney Island hippies and the moon landing, yet can’t quite summon a time when this sci-fi comedy franchise felt fresh.

The third in director Barry Sonnenfeld’s aliens-among-us series reassembles most of the elements that made 1997’s original a charmer.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back, if a bit bedraggled, as the top-secret government agents battling all variety (mostly gross) of space aliens. FX genius Rick Baker populates the planet with fantastically realized visitors, and the script (credited to Etan Cohen after years of rumored rewrites by committee) taps some of the first installment’s snappy cynicism.

The film gets off to an energetic start with the lunar prison escape of one-armed Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, the “Flight of the Conchords” funnyman, unrecognizable as a Hells Angels-type villain).

Back to ’69

Once free, Boris heads back to 1969, determined to rewrite history by killing Jones’s then-rookie Agent K.

Smith’s Agent J follows headlong in pursuit, and Sonnenfeld demands we do the same -- pondering the film’s near-absent internal logic is as pointless as the rules “MIB3” invents as it goes.

Our payoff is Josh Brolin as the younger, slightly happier version of Agent K. Brolin is a special effect in himself, nailing Jones’ gruff mannerisms.

The film is best at its goofiest -- a fistfight atop Apollo 11, a free-fall plunge from the Chrysler Building and, loveliest of all, a trip to an empty Shea Stadium, where an ethereal, future-seeing alien (Michael Stuhlbarg, in Elmer Fudd drag) explains all the necessary variables that will contribute to the Miracle Mets’ unlikely World Series victory. That’s magic.

“Men in Black 3,” from Columbia Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)

‘Moonrise Kingdom’

Like one of the adolescent misfits in his defiantly quirky “Moonrise Kingdom,” director Wes Anderson draws a line and dares detractors to cross it.

Go ahead, cross over. “Moonrise Kingdom” is a gem, an off-kilter fable of first love, awkward kids and Scouting skills.

Set during late summer 1965 in an island community off the coast of New England, the bittersweet comedy follows two love-blinded 12-year-old runaways as they traipse through a woods to a beachside idyll they name Moonrise Kingdom.

Whip-smart “Khaki Scout” Sam (Jared Gilman) is a bullied nerd in a Davy Crockett cap, an outsider even his foster parents won’t love.

Suzy (Kara Hayward) is his dreamy, troubled girlfriend, her caked-on eye shadow the most prominent sign that she’s ready to leave her unhappy childhood behind.

Their sudden disappearance -- “Jiminy Cricket! He flew the coop!,” says scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) -- leaves the tiny community in a tizzy. Suzy’s lovelessly married parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) join the scoutmaster and a sad sack sheriff (Bruce Willis) in the hunt.

Special Place

Anderson and cowriter Roman Coppola fashion “Moonrise Kingdom” as a sort of earnest, high-blown children’s adventure, not mock-heroic exactly, because no one’s mocking anything. When Suzy envies Sam’s “special” place as an orphan in the world, he thinks for a moment before responding, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Meticulously designed and photographed, “Moonrise Kingdom” has a tender heart beneath the amped-up artificiality. After a quarrel, Suzy’s mom apologizes to her husband.

“Which injuries are you apologizing for, specifically,” he asks.

“Specifically, whichever ones still hurt,” comes the answer.

“Moonrise Kingdom,” from Focus Features, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **** (Evans)

‘The Intouchables’

At the beginning of the French feel-good drama “The Intouchables,” a fabulously rich quadriplegic (Francois Cluzet) follows a whim and hires a Senegalese thug from the banlieues (Omar Sy) as his attendant.

Philippe, the cultured aristocrat, and Driss, the vivacious lout, are both sick of the hand they’ve been dealt; each awakens the other’s will to have fun.

They’re a 21st-century Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, and their bromance is safe from even a hint of gay panic, since Philippe is numb from the neck down.

The set-up is maudlin by definition. But because Philippe’s reason for wanting Driss around is that Driss is too insensitive to pity him, it also has a gruff underside that allows you to enjoy it without hating yourself. It’s not a tear-jerker.

In France, “The Intouchables” (if the title is ever explained, I missed it) was a success far beyond what its writer-directors, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, or anybody else could have predicted; it’s now the second-most-viewed domestic movie in French history.

Its appeal is understandable: Everyone would like to think that poor and rich, black and white can bridge their differences. Besides, Cluzet and Sy have chemistry.

Sy has the more difficult role, since he has to make Driss simultaneously loutish and attractive. I wasn’t as charmed by Driss’s oafishness in the face of modern art, poetry and classical music as I was clearly meant to be.

Earth, Wind, Fire

I was mortified when he shrugged off the early-music orchestra hired to play at Philippe’s exceedingly dull birthday party and put on Earth, Wind & Fire.

But as soon as he started to dance I sat up, and my mind went straight to John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” -- which came out in 1977, the year before Sy was born. (“Boogie Wonderland,” the song he dances to, was released when he was one.) My biggest complaint about the movie is that he doesn’t dance more.

Driss is supposed to have an infectious joie de vivre that brings Philippe’s starchy household to life. That’s a concept that could kill a movie. Instead, it won Sy the 2012 Cesar as Best Actor.

“The Intouchables,” from the Weinstein Company, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: *** (Seligman)

What the Stars Mean:

****  Excellent
***   Good
**    Average
*     Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are their own.)

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