Men In Black
Directed By: Eli Drinkwitz
Starring: Nick Bolton, Larry Rountree, Tyler Badie, Connor Bazelak, Tauskie Dove
Synopsis: A secretive organization dressed all in black is called upon to defeat an invading species — and look good doing it.
Does a movie need high stakes to register as an all-time classic? Probably. But sometimes the easy hits are satisfying enough.
Take Eli Drinkwitz’s latest hit at Mizzou Studios, Men In Black. From the get-go, it’s pretty easy to see that the stakes are going to be pretty low. The antagonist, after all, is a somewhat poorly-rendered version of what a villain should look like. You know from minute one where the story is headed.
But something keeps you there, something intangible. Something that smells of... charisma.
In his seventh production as director, Eli Drinkwitz delivers this sort of attention-grabbing charisma, and he delivers it in waves. Dressed in suits of black (flecked with stylish gold) the Men In Black are called upon when a seemingly menacing alien crew makes its way into town. Of course, as we’ll come to find out, the aliens aren’t all that menacing — it’s just Vanderbilt after all. But even when the film lacks any sort of compelling story line, it’s hard not to have your eyes glued to the screen, simply because the execution is so stunning.
There’s an inherent danger in putting out a low-stakes effort like this — fans tend to get a little bored as the story wears on. But Men In Black avoids the pitfalls of these clunkers by consistently delivering exactly what the people want throughout its speedy runtime.
First and foremost, there are the central performances from familiar faces that we know and love. Led by proven box office draws Larry Rountree and Nick Bolton, Men In Black is stuffed full of transcendent performances top to bottom. There’s Connor Bazelak as the ever-present, always sturdy executive of the offensive branch. There’s the lightning rod Tyler Badie, always ready to catch you off guard with a tonal juke.
Drinkwitz even throws in a little bit of Elijah Young, a fresh face that we’ve yet to see much of, to keep things spicy. The introduction is part of a trend that we’re starting to see from Drinkwitz’s best films — how the stars of tomorrow are being introduced today. Take, for instance, the arrival of Brady Cook late in the production’s runtime. Cook was a coveted talent in his scouting days, and Mizzou Studios’ ability to scoop him up may pay dividends long-term — at least, if he’s able to continue performing like he did in his few minutes of character work. If you rewatch, you’ll see those sorts of future stars and bit performers turn up everywhere. Come for the glances of Kris Abrams-Draine, stay for the Mason Pack heat check! It’s a fun blend of familiarity and originality that keeps you on your toes through the end.
Moving up the chain of command, the direction may be the best its been since Drinkwitz took over the job. We’ve seen the boss change genre as needed to accommodate his talent, but we’ve yet to see everything come together in the way it does here. The scripting is perfect, matching every beat in the story with the perfect moment to keep the audience entranced. Beginning of the story and the nerves are on edge? Let Rountree carry the load. The villain creeping a little too close for comfort? Have Jarvis Ware jump in and swing the momentum. It’s a rare thing for a director to do, but it feels like Drinkwitz has his hands on a control panel, and every push of a button turns out favorably. Maybe there’s an element of luck, but as they say in show business (and everywhere business) — you create your own luck!
And despite the fact that the movie seems to be over before it really begins, there’s something pretty tranquil about the whole thing. You watch Men In Black not for the thrill of the game, but for the illusion of said thrill. Audiences in this case don’t actually want to be on the edge of their seat, but they would really like you to give them a reason to lean forward. Drinkwitz’s direction — to his crew and cast — achieves this goal to perfection. Who cares about the lack of suspense? You don’t always go to the movies to be in suspense, after all. Sometimes you want something that’s predictable, fun and super slick. This is, “Hollywood,” after all.