Aliens, Smith, And Jones
MAD DOLLARS, PANIC ATTACKS, AND JACKO'S STAR TRIP--HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED WHEN MEN IN BLACK'S TOMMY LEE JONES AND WILL SMITH SUITED UP FOR SUMMER'S CREATURE-CRAZED SEQUEL
One is a 55-year-old west Texas rancher whose former college roommate became Vice President Al Gore. The other is a 33-year-old West Philly rapper whose former partner…well, still is DJ Jazzy Jeff. But Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith have one thing in common: They crack each other up. The stars of Men in Black II answer the kickoff question of an interview with a series of head-scratching one-liners that send them both into giggle fits:
EW When Will used a ”neuralizer” to erase Tommy’s memory at the end of the first Men in Black, was that a setup for the sequel?
JONES I’m glad I didn’t die! [Smith chuckles]
SMITH That would’ve been a tough one! [Jones laughs]
JONES We’d need a ”revitalizer”! [Smith guffaws]
SMITH A ”de-die-erizer”! [Jones explodes]
Guys, stop. You’re killing us.
Thankfully, the humor in Men in Black II — which reteams Smith’s plucky Agent Jay with Jones’ sour Agent Kay — is a bit more accessible. And though the sequel features eye-popping aliens played by The Practice’s Lara Flynn Boyle and Jackass’ Johnny Knoxville, hundreds of special effects, and even a cameo by the King of Pop, it rides almost completely on the dynamic between its two identically garbed but otherwise mismatched ET-busters. ”To me, they’re not only a comedy couple,” says director Barry Sonnenfeld (also returning from the original), ”but they’re strangely a romantic couple, too.”
The production calculus, however, wasn’t nearly as effortless as the stars’ chemistry. In March 2001, Sony’s Columbia Pictures, then on a four-year downturn that included the pricey disappointments Godzilla, 8MM, and Random Hearts, announced MIBII’s July 3, 2002, release date. But before the movie with more corporate tie-ins than any film in company history could hit theaters, Sonnenfeld would have to contend with an unfinished script, a looming actors’ strike, and unwanted meddling by the studio and producers. They all had reason to be concerned: Variety has opined that at a cost of $140 million (not including massive marketing dollars), the 88-minute MIBII may be, per minute, the most expensive live-action movie ever made.
Sony’s love affair with Smith and Jones heated up in 1997 over the Fourth of July weekend, when the original Men in Black grossed $84.1 million in its first five days. ”Anytime you have an $80 million-plus opening, you’re talking about the sequel that Saturday,” says Smith. But a second installment required not only a new plotline — Jay must persuade the now-civilian Kay to don the MIB suit once again — but also an updated payment plan. ”Neither Tommy, Will, nor myself had gross [participation]in the first movie,” says Sonnenfeld, explaining that only Sony and executive producer Steven Spielberg received a piece of the nearly $600 million MIB earned worldwide. ”I couldn’t imagine that they would be willing to give up enough to allow us to feel rewarded for the first movie.”
Men in Black II