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Can ‘Men in Black 3’ Turn Back Time?

The series, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, returns after a 10-year absence, in a diverting and fun time-traveling adventure.

Quick hit: Agents K (Tommy Lee Jones) and J (Will Smith) face a crisis when an old nemesis of K's escapes prison and decides to time travel to erase his adversary. J must take the same leap, where he meets the '60s version of K (Josh Brolin). Men in Black 3 is slow to get moving and overly reliant on a couple of credibility-straining plot threads, but lives up to some of the best moments in the franchise, nicely mixing opposites-attract levity and alien gross-outs. 

Will Smith solidified his star standing with Men in Black as the comic and sassy foil to Tommy Lee Jones' grumpy and taciturn seen-it-all agent in charge of aliens.

But that film hit it big in 1997 and 2002's follow-up, while still a hit, did not register as well with viewers, so the sequel opening Friday is something of a surprise in that it happened at all, and in the end, it's quite good fun.

Men in Black 3 opens with Smith's Agent J and Jones's Agent K knocking heads a bit more than usual, as K prepares to face a ruthless alien he first encountered decades ago. Now escaped from prison, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) is bent on revenge.

He's so determined, in fact, he's willing to go back in time to take K out, and when J gets wind of the plot, he finds himself in 1969, where he quickly meets up with Josh Brolin's version of K.

The actor, once paired with Jones in No Country For Old Men, reveals a little more looseness in the K character, as befits someone 40 years younger who has yet to hit his life-changing moment. 

The movie bounces along, too fun to take the mind-boggling Lost-style approach to the novelty of time travel; but it takes these smart characters too long to realize the historical significance of the date to which the plot is tied (X-Men: First Class did a better job weaving real-world milestones into its sci-fi plot), and ties things up too prettily with a far-fetched (yet somehow still affecting) conclusion.

One of the best bits in the franchise is its seamless blend of aliens into big-city life and MiB3 returns to the theme nicely, especially via Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), a character who seems a tad too quirky at first. But his ability – he can see multiple future possibilities and the fates into which they converge – adds considerable heart to the film.

Smith and Jones do their things, one cracking wise, one staring stonily, while Brolin jumps in without any trouble. There's little bad language in the PG-13 film, and enough icky fun for youngsters and teens schooled on Nickelodeon-style sliming. MiB3 also jumps on the 3-D bandwagon, but to little effect other than offering a starker view of dizzying heights.

Pop culture time moves slower than the memory-erasing neuralizers made famous by the Men in Black films, but it accomplishes the job just as surely, and a decade is long time to be away form the movie scene. But MiB3, with its blend of familiar stars and tropes with satisfying new performers and themes, reasserts itself nicely.

Men in Black 3 is showing at these nearby theaters:

GROSSMONT CENTER 10, 5500 Grossmont Center Dr., La Mesa.

EDWARDS RANCHO SAN DIEGO 15, 2951 Jamacha Road, El Cajon.

REGAL PARKWAY PLAZA STADIUM 18 & IMAX, 405 Parkway Plaza, El Cajon.

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