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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

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Josh Brolin and Will Smith in "Men in Black III."
Josh Brolin and Will Smith in "Men in Black III."

"Men in Black III" brings the same crazy fun to the big screen

It only took 10 years, but the Men in Black are back in theaters in all their quirked-out extraterrestrial glory.

Depending on how much you liked the first two, this could be good or bad news. "Men in Black III" plays out in much the same way as the franchise's first and second installments. The plot is obviously different, but thanks to the return of director Barry Sonnenfeld, composer Danny Elfman and most importantly Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, the black-suited alien busters are the same as they ever were.

"MIB 3" ups the ante from 1 and 2 with an adventure that covers both time and space. Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones)'s former nemesis Boris The Animal escapes from LunarMax prison and, deciding that revenge is a dish best served before the problem even occurs, travels back in time to kill K and usher in Earth's takeover by his home species, the Boglodytes. It's up to Agent J (Will Smith) to follow him back to the '60s and save K's life before Boris rewrites history.

The new premise is a bit of a handful – I'll get to that in a second. It's no match, however, for the enduring MIB spirit of zany gags and subtle (and not-so-subtle) pop culture digs. The advantage of adding an extra time period to the mix only offers up more punchline fodder.

"Alien" cameos – both in-person and name-dropped – potpourri the movie, and both '60s and modern-day icons get pegged for extraterrestrials. It makes for a good quick couple of laughs, but it got old quickly before – with a celebrity pool twice as big, it gets old twice as fast.

There's much more to "MIB 3" than cheap jokes, though. There's also a whole new time travel element to contend with. The movie keeps explanations brief, which leaves a lot of holes if you spend some time actually thinking it through, but it doesn't spend much time on the logistics, so you don't. It's just another goofy, off-hand plot device, which for this kind of movie is just fine.

Instead, "MIB 3" keeps things moving with Will Smith's …

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Taylor Kitsch in "Battleship," in theaters today.
Taylor Kitsch in "Battleship," in theaters today.

"Battleship" sinks

Move over sequels, reboots, remakes and movies based on books – Hollywood's taking its inspiration from its dusty shelf of children's games now. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer, for those of you who don't like rhetoric, is something more than "a lot" and just short of "everything." This shiny waste of theater screen real estate stars Taylor Kitsch as Lieutenant Alex Hopper, a plays-by-his-own-rules naval officer who gets tasked with saving the world after a high-tech alien force barricades Hawaii and its surrounding water space in a forcefield dome.

That premise would be more than enough to hold over a normal big-budget B-movie, but "Battleship" isn't content to simply cruise through charted action waters. It'd rather detour through a dragging introduction about Hopper, his girlfriend and his brother, a move that does absolutely nothing to forward the plot or develop the movie's oppressively one-dimensional characters. "Battleship" wasted a whole half hour explaining just how much of a screw-up Hopper was in dialogue when five minutes of subsequent action conveyed the same.

Just when the action starts up and it seems the film's "Screenplays for Dummies" approach is finally about to pay off, the hyper-explanations stop. The audience learns early on that scientists have beamed some kind of communication beacon in the direction of a potentially life-sustaining planet, but is left hanging on why the aliens answered it. Eventually the aliens' objectives get worked out, but it comes far too late and completely ignores their original motives for showing up in the first place (Scouting mission? World domination? Meh, let's just shoot 'em.).

Instead, viewers are supposed to be placated with fancy CGI of the aqua-Transformers ships, which resemble a cross between a waterbug and a souped-up robo-Bowser from Super Mario. The aliens themselves are also a let-down. Coming from an Earth-like planet I guess the designers can get away with making them humanoid, but th…

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Sacha Baron Cohen as Admiral General Aladeen in "The Dictator," in theaters now.
Sacha Baron Cohen as Admiral General Aladeen in "The Dictator," in theaters now.

"The Dictator" is a comedy of excess

By now, it's fair to say moviegoers know to check their political correctness at the door of any of Sacha Baron Cohen's flicks. He most certainly has, and it's best to meet the um, artist, at his level.

"The Dictator," Cohen's latest tasteless romp, is no exception. The movie centers on Admiral General Aladeen, the overlord of the fictional Middle Eastern Republic of Wadiya. He's ruthless, temperamental and a complete idiot. But, he also has a vulnerable side – a side effect of his self-imposed position on his tyrannical pedestal ("I'm so rone-ry," anyone?). 

After a botched assassination attempt leaves Aladeen to fend for himself in the filthy democratic hotbed of personal freedom that is New York City, he discovers a wealth of new emotions, plenty of opportunities for fish-out-of-absolute-power humor and even love with a granola-munching eco-hippie (Anna Faris). Awww. 

Cohen has no problem thinking up ploys to dispense his scathing mix of satire, slapstick and crude humor. The problem is he doesn't know where to draw the line. Obviously, it's not his status as an equal-opportunity offender that's the surprise – what I'm talking about is his actual execution of said barbs.

Most of the schtick feels like indecisive amalgamations of every laugh that was whiteboarded in the writers' room. The punchlines fly fast and furious like extra takes better left for the gag reel. The first one's great, the second one's decent, and the third is followed by two or three more until Cohen moves on to another subject of ridicule. It's sad overkill that mars an otherwise good, subversive comedy.

I wish I could give "The Dictator" a rating as extreme and divisive as its content. But, The Worst/Best Film of the Year it is not. It's merely a flick that had the potential to wallow in "I'm-going-to-hell-for-laughing-at-this" goodness, but instead smothered itself in it.

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The intrepid retirees of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," in theaters today.
The intrepid retirees of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," in theaters today.

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is worth checking into

Movie lovers and wanderlusters alike are poised find something worthwhile in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," opening in theaters today.

The film follows seven British retirees who travel to India to take up residence in an unconventional local hotel for the "elderly and beautiful." It's not quite the idyllic paradise the group had expected, but hardworking hotel manager Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire") has lofty plans for the ancient structure – and not much more than his earnest, unflappable optimism to bring them to fruition.

His guests bring with them the promise of actual hotel income, plus a little extra baggage besides the kind they packed into their suitcases.

Each has his own motive for setting off on their intrepid journey: Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith, who owns her role as a hilariously shocking old-fashioned racist) is in desperate need of a hip replacement, Madge Hardcastle and Norman Cousins (Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup) are on respective searches for Mr. and Mrs. Right Now, the Ainslies (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) are attempting to avoid resigning themselves to the "end of the road," Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench, whose character also serves as part-time narrator) is searching for the beginning of hers after a lifetime of sheltered marriage, and Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is on a mysterious quest to put his past to rest.

The group soon discovers that finding themselves doesn't come easy, and even more so in the midst of extreme culture shock. Change arrives more slowly for some than others as they adapt to India's food, customs and environment through good-natured humor and generous sprinklings of touching emotional expressions. Even Sonny has his own mountains to climb as he struggles to keep his beloved hotel afloat and reconcile his traditional mother to his girlfriend.

It has its ups and downs, but certainly "Marigold Hotel" proves to be a moving and heartfelt experience. The actors are brilliant and very human …

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