Eve: choosing between freedom, compassion and responsibility makes an android more human than humans

Josh Bowman, “Eve” (2019)

A character-driven sci-fi story with good acting and a strong visual look with a desert setting doesn’t need a fancy budget or whizz-bang special effects as this 14-minute piece demonstrates. Android A6609 (played by Sianad Gregory) is on the run from unknown authorities, racing for her very existence in the Californian desert. Her companion is shot down by lone human hermit Jackson (Matt Russell). When Android A6609 collapses in the desert, Jackson revives her using jump cables attached to his utility van. Coming back to life, the machine resists Jackson and his explanations about why he has been cast adrift in the desert but when he offers to remove the tracking device in her spine so she can continue on her way to freedom, she relents. While he removes the tracker, she tells him that her name is Eve – and that she named herself, presumably after the Biblical character. She spots a photograph of Jackson’s son and asks after the boy; Jackson replies that his son is being held hostage by the authorities and he does not know if he will ever see him again.

Eve wants to flee to a place she has heard of but Jackson attempts to dissuade her – because, as he is later forced to admit, he has implanted the idea into her neurological networks. The brief friendship between Eve and Jackson quickly disappears when Eve discovers that Jackson is negotiating with the authorities for the return of his son if he finds and surrenders Eve. She leaves him in a huff, taking his van, but after driving some distance and seeing the photograph of Jackson’s son, she pauses to decide what to do next. At that point, the film ends.

This character study is an intriguing investigation into the nature of freedom and into how much free choice we humans have and whether what we might call free choice is really a result of deterministic forces in our lives. Are we really free or are we really slaves to our instincts and our cultural conditioning? Connected to the issue of freedom and free choice in the film is acceptance of responsibility – Eve has to choose between pursuing physical freedom and striving to reach a place that might not exist, and giving up that freedom so that Jackson might be reunited with his son. At the point where she stops the van to ponder that choice, she is freer than Jackson will ever be: she can choose flight or she can choose surrendering flight so that a father can be reunited with his child. There is no suggestion though that Jackson will become a free man once he is reunited with his son.

The plot is sketchy enough that it lends itself to quite subversive interpretations about what is at stake for Eve. How do we know that Eve’s “escape” was not originally planned by Jackson and the authorities? What are they actually testing in allowing Eve to run away and to present her with a choice between continuing to run to freedom and surrendering it so that Jackson and his son can be together again? Is Eve’s desire for freedom also something that has been implanted into her neural networks? Is Jackson really telling the truth when he says his son is a hostage? What if the boy in the photograph is not really Jackson’s son?

The film can be considered to be complete in itself, even with its vague plot and its halt right at the point when Eve has to decide whether to give up her freedom or to continue on, or as a pilot for a full-length movie.

Satori [Awakening]: post-apocalypse film very much asleep under character stereotypes and a boring plot

Adam K Batchelor, “Satori [Awakening]” (2020)

An original and ambitious idea of an Earth re-engineered by Artificial Intelligence to reverse environmental degradation, combined perhaps with genetic engineering of most plant life-forms, and that experiment going awry with the result that AI covers the planet in sentient jungles hostile to the remaining human beings who must adapt to and live in new environments that endanger them, is brought low by tired character stereotypes and an equally hackneyed plot privileging violence over thoughts, behaviours and actions rooted in the logic of the new world. A mixed group of soldiers and scientists, so far sheltered in an underground facility, ventures to the surface in a reconnaissance ship. The ship crashes and just two survivors, scientist Daisy Evans (Jane Perry) and military leader Warren Rodgers (Mark Holden), emerge from the wreckage. The two must try to find any other survivors while trying to make their way through the new world.

The film tries to present as a pilot for a film or television series and as a character study of Evans and Rodgers. Unfortunately both characters descend into gender and vocation-based stereotypes: Evans is presented as compassionate as well as knowledgeable, simply because she’s a mature-aged woman as well as a scientist; and Rodgers is a bone-headed macho military idiot who needs the biggest futuristic Uzi alive to show the plants who’s Boss. His actions make no sense at all, apart from angering the plants so much that they show off their special powers, which perhaps is really what the film is all about: generating a new movie trend of genetically engineered terror plants that menace humans. For much of the film’s running time, Evans doesn’t do much at all that would warrant her presence as a female scientist with particular knowledge and personality type.

The two tramp around in the dense jungle without making much meaningful conversation, let alone a conversation in which both could argue about the right thing to do, whether to find the survivors or resume the original mission without survivors. Disappointingly the film ends when at last some semblance of a real plot with real action appears as Evans and Rodgers make contact with a group of humans who actually have been living peacefully with the plants for yonks. Which of course means that Evans’ character was never needed anyway.

At least the film looks good and the ridiculous-looking plants shoot some nifty electric bolts.

End of Decay: pulpy body-horror adaptation of Frankenstein story

Christopher Todd, “End of Decay” (2017)

A pulpy body-horror update on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” novel, this short film has the sketchy and hasty look of a pilot for a sci-fi horror film that might have once done David Cronenberg proud. Ambitious freelancing pharmaceutical researcher Orin (Brian Villalobos) is pursuing a project using stem cells to regenerate body parts and organs in his garage. From this research, he hopes to discover a method by which degenerative diseases and conditions such as cancer can be cured or prevented, and he himself, being wheelchair-bound, can regain the use of his legs. His collaborator, disgusted at Orin’s resort to sourcing stem cells on the black market, and suspecting that the research is Orin’s vanity project, leaves him. After obtaining the stem cells, which have come from God-only-knows-where, Orin injects them into his spine through a machine set-up guaranteed to inflict maximum pain on him (three times, no less!) and hysterical heebee-jeebees on the viewer at the sight of all the vomit.

At first everything seems to have gone well, and Orin does regain the use of his legs – but as with all experiments where the researcher uses himself or herself as the first guinea pig, unusual side-effects can be expected. To his consternation Orin discovers an ectopic pregnancy growing in the right-hand side of his abdomen. Unwisely perhaps, he does not consult his local neighbourhood family-planning clinic who might have urged him to agree to a properly done Caesarean appendectomy …

The film is more notable for its themes which admittedly are not original. Pursuit of scientific knowledge needs to be moderated with ethics or else experiments will generate invalid or dangerous results. Orin narrowly cheats death at least twice but whether he can handle the responsibilities of parenting a fast-growing child who is destined for a poor quality of life as a freak of nature, and what threats and dangers that might pose for both Orin and his creation, is another question. Orin may laugh at his former collaborator for not wanting to share in his discovery but he may eventually rue his decision to inject himself with treated stem cells of dubious origins and nature.

The plot depends a great deal on viewers’ knowledge of Shelley’s “Frankenstein …” to make sense of the breaks in the narrative, corresponding to the passage of time from one scene to the next. Obviously this short film is intended in the space of less than 15 minutes to pitch a plot for a movie or even a mini-series that brings “Frankenstein …” into a contemporary era of DIY freelancing biological research, organ-trafficking and stem-cell technologies.

Lucid: horror sci-fi dealing with cyber-addiction, escapism and technology shaping human psychology

Jamie Monahan, “Lucid” (2018)

The film’s title refers to so-called lucid dreams in which the dreamer is aware that s/he is dreaming, that the action in the dream comes from his/her subconscious and s/he can control and shape the dream’s path and narrative. Actor-director Jamie Monahan applies this concept of dreams to Virtual Reality, in which participants are not only transported to a cyber-world that simulates reality but can be trained to shape it while inside it. Monahan introduces other themes such as the issue of cyber-addiction, the use of Virtual Reality as a form of escape from real life and having to confront it and deal with its mess, and the place of women in technology invented and mostly mediated by men.

Charlie (Monahan herself) decides to try Virtual Reality neurological therapy after months of having had other unsuccessful treatments for post-traumatic stress caused by being raped during a girls’ night out. After a few treatments during which Charlie is able to “think” a puppy into existence in Virtual Reality, the therapist realises that Charlie has considerable talent in shaping Virtual Reality and signs her up to an experimental long-term program. Unbeknownst to Charlie, her sessions with the therapist have been carefully monitored by psychologists and scientists who have plans of their own in using her – and who are quite prepared to throw her therapist off the program if she objects. In her first session in the long-term program, Charlie realises too late that she is being stalked by strangers who have entered her Virtual Reality world and who threaten her psychological stability.

The film plays like a pilot to a full-length film or television series which might explain its sketchy and incomplete nature. However the vague nature of the plot does invite many intriguing explanations of what is happening throughout the film. Is the rape itself a scene in a different Virtual Reality world? What exactly is the role of Deja, Charlie’s friend, in “Lucid”? One might think Charlie would not be too keen on seeing Deja again after her rape experience as Deja was the one who took Charlie to the club where Charlie met the rapist. How and why does Charlie choose Virtual Reality neurological therapy to cope and deal with her trauma? Was the rapist ever arrested, charged with rape and put away in prison?

The acting is adequate for the film and perhaps Monahan is best advised not to try to direct and be the main character at the same time so that her energies and efforts are not spread thinly. However the film’s emphasis is on plot and the themes and issues surrounding the use of Virtual Reality in ordinary life, and how it could lead people into escapist cyber-addiction and encourage an inability to acknowledge and accept that life is often unfair and hard lessons must be learned to gain maturity and self-knowledge.

The film looks very good and plays smoothly, and serves as an introduction to the wider issue of how technology is allowed to invade and shape human psychology and culture.

Outpost: a skimpy plot redeemed by skillful acting, good sets and an uplifting theme of hope and love

Justin Giddings, Ryan Welsh, “Outpost” (2020)

On the very edge of the known universe, the last survivor of Earth’s Interplanetary Diplomatic Service, a fellow known as Citizen Gordon (Ryan Welsh, who also co-wrote and co-directed this film short) and his AI companion A.R.I.A. (Ryann Turner, in real life married to co-director Justin Giddings) make contact with an alien life force that resents the presence of the Earthlings in its part of the cosmic neighbourhood. Citizen Gordon and A.R.I.A. have already collected considerable information about this region of the universe and the alien force wants the data back. The Earthlings try to escape but the alien grabs A.R.I.A. and starts draining energy from her. Gordon is torn between saving the AI being – they have been together and have clicked together so well that they have fallen in love, in defiance of their employer’s directives against human-AI relationships – and adhering to his mission while the alien pulls her with a long tentacle and tries to engulf her.

The plot is very skimpy with many logic holes in it. Why is the alien so concerned about the presence of another interstellar species in its region? What does the alien mean when it tells Gordon and A.R.I.A. that their kind is “not ready” to make contact with it? How long have Gordon and A.R.I.A. been together and how could their seniors have failed to notice the burgeoning romance beneath their good cop / bad cop routine and the bantering between them? (Unless of course their seniors had always been aware of this relationship and even encouraged it, giving rise to further intriguing issues on whether such a relationship was intended to manipulate Gordon and make of him a laboratory animal for study.) Would a spaceship in the 25th century really carry a weapon like a sword? (No wonder the alien force distrusts humans when they insist on using old-fashioned weapons!) Nevertheless the film works because the actors playing Gordon and A.R.I.A. are at ease with each other, have invested heavily into these otherwise one-dimensional characters and the two have good chemistry. Welsh certainly comes across as a young, rough-hewn version of Australian actor Hugh Jackman and plays both a heroic character and a larrikin at the same time. Turner brings a quick mind and wit to A.R.I.A. and the character’s self-sacrifice and death are extremely affecting as the Earthlings sail off in their escape pod while the alien force pursues them.

The special effects are very good without being outstanding – I’ve seen so many DUST films featuring holograms being used as laptop and iPad replacements that this futuristic technology is now looking banal before it even becomes reality – and the sets and costumes are very impressive. Attention to detail such as these and the acting together can flesh out a very sketchy story and compensate for flaws in the narrative.

The film’s conclusion, coming after the end credits, turns out to be very moving with Gordon apparently alone on a deserted planet and A.R.I.A. close by, in the manner of Hans Christian Anderson’s famous Little Mermaid at the end of her tale. Whatever the alien force found in Gordon when it captured him and A.R.I.A. must have impressed it so much – his willingness to sacrifice everything he has for a mere robot, the extent of his love and affection for a machine – that he received a commuted sentence for whatever harm he and A.R.I.A. did to it. Or perhaps the alien force finds him a fascinating subject for further research just as his employers did with his relationship with A.R.I.A.

Hashtag: smartly presented and concise film on social media as psychological prisons

Ben Alpi, “Hashtag” (2015)

A smartly presented sci-fi short, “Hashtag” demonstrates how a science fiction film made with a tiny budget and minimal special effects can be a cult success if its actors are able to do exceptional work with a significant theme and plot. In “Hashtag”, the theme focuses on the impact of social media on human society, to the extent that people form their identities and judge their self-worth (and the worth of others) based on the values and structures imposed by social media platforms. The plot explores what happens when an online social media celebrity (Gigi Edgley), known only as X, is interrupted in her various online tasks – which include advertising products even during intimate personal routines such as her morning shower, and collecting statistics on her popularity and the number of friends she has – by mysterious hacker Gil (Erryn Arkin) who forces her to question the nature of her existence. Her resulting curiosity about the box she lives results in her employer, who communicates through an AI being called Te’a (voiced by Juliet Landau, the real-life daughter of Hollywood actors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain), ditching her and casting her out into a place populated by other social media celebrity has-beens. We do not know what this place is as the film ends at this point and so we are left to speculate on what sort of uncertain future faces X. We also must muse on the nature of Gil himself, whether he truly is a rebel hacker or is a company employee sent out to get rid of X before she experiences burn-out and starts losing her fan base and clientele.

The undoubted attraction of the film is Edgley who in the space of less than 15 minutes fills an essentially one-dimensional character with so much feeling and emotion that viewers end up feeling for X, despite her hectic and shallow lifestyle and her extreme dependence on her employer and Te’a for affirmation and purpose for living and being. I did not get the impression that X ever really realises that she is being turfed out completely and permanently – so abrupt and horrific is the way she is shunned by her employer once she asks a question that she seems unaware is forbidden. The special effects used are excellent but Edgley’s portrayal of a lonely social media celebrity on the edge of burn-out and cracking end up overpowering the film’s technical aspects.

The film’s fast pace mirrors the frantic speed at which Edgley’s character is forced to live her life constantly exposed to public scrutiny – though interestingly we never see her audience and so the possibility exists that her audience really consists of bots activated by a limited number of algorithms – and only allowed brief breaks for privacy and self-reflection. Even then, she is expected to view her employer’s media during recreation time. On the one occasion when she looks outside her box and sees other boxes just like hers, the film achieves true existential dystopian / panopticon horror.

Social media celebrities and the audiences who support them and their platforms turn out to be prisoners in a system that milks them both for profit and to harvest their data and information that can be used to manipulate and even blackmail them. The prison formed is not so much physical as it is psychological, even spiritual. Prisoners may not even realise they are trapped as their identities and self-worth are shaped and moulded by the prison’s parameters and the values and beliefs it promotes. The devil really does exist in the details of the prison.

Laws of the Universe: justice working out in mysterious ways

Chris Mangano, “Laws of the Universe” (2019)

As is usually the case with sci-fi film shorts uploaded to Youtube by DUST, this film makes up for in depth and quality what it lacks in the way of a budget. Houston (Sidney Brown Jr) has spent 16 years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, after being wrongly convicted of killing someone. While in prison he actually did murder someone out of self-defence which explains why he is in solitary confinement. He is waiting to be released from jail after using the time to educate himself in law and learning yoga and meditation. Unfortunately the prison wardens seem to have disappeared so he contacts his mother on his cellphone and she tells him to turn on his TV set. He does so and sure enough, a strange UFO is hovering above Los Angeles, attracting so much attention that even the wardens and administrators at the high-security prison have deserted their posts to view the wonder.

Over the next several days, while Houston and his fellow prisoners languish for want of attention and food and drink, Mom informs her son by phone that people are looting the abandoned UFO for alien technology. In the meantime, the water supply and then electricity are cut off to the prison and Houston endures several days of near starvation and thirst. He becomes concerned for his family’s welfare and worries about his mother. On Day 12 of his continued incarceration when he should have been freed eleven days earlier, Houston receives an unusual visitor in his cell: a man (Jason Karasev) using some of that unusual alien tech materialises in his cell looking for a friend to free …

The plot is entirely driven by dialogue and Brown’s acting, much of it silent. Beneath the youthful tough-talking exterior, Houston is revealed as someone of considerable intelligence and adaptability. While he and his previous lawyers were unable to overturn his initial wrongful conviction, Houston has used his time in jail to turn over a new leaf and improve himself. At the same time his prison experiences have toughened him in a different way from life in the streets, perhaps as a member of a teenage gang, and he does not hesitate to sweep aside conventional notions of morality if it means saving his life or saving the lives of others. Hence, when the stranger keeps reappearing in his cell, clearly unsure of himself (this suggests that he knows that he is doing wrong in trying to free his convicted pal), Houston takes advantage of the stranger’s uncertainty to free himself. He lands in a world at once familiar to him – he sees his family’s home – and yet unfamiliar: the streets are free of crime, traffic and pollution. Clearly the alien technology that has been pilfered from the abandoned UFO above the city has some capacity to see into people’s minds and probe their intentions, and has fulfilled those subconscious desires and instincts in ways unforeseen by the new human owners of the technology.

While the laws of physics might have been broken in this film, the law of morality turns out to be straightforward in spite of its apparent extreme elasticity and malleability. As religious people say, God works His justice in mysterious ways.

Men in Black II: some good ideas go to waste in a cheap sequel

Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black II” (2002)

Five years after the events of the original “Men in Black”, at the end of which Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) retired from the Men in Black agency – the secret intelligence unit that monitors the activities of exterrestrial beings living and working on Planet Earth – his former MiB protege Agent J (Will Smith) is called upon to investigate the mysterious death of an alien at his (the alien’s, that is) pizza restaurant. There, Agent J interviews Laura (Rosario Dawson) who tells him her employer was killed by two aliens, Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle), a shape-shifting monster in the form of a lingerie model, and Charlie and Scrad, Serleena’s two-headed assistant (Johnny Knoxville), who are hunting for the Light of Zartha which Serleena needs for her own nefarious purposes. Agent J is attracted to Laura and decides not to neuralyse her.

As he investigates the crime, Agent J discovers nearly all leads go back to his mentor so he brings the former Agent K back to MiB headquarters for re-neuralysation. Before Agent K’s neuralysation is completed, Serleena and her minions attack the building and seriously trash it so Agent K’s memories must be restored clandestinely. Having regained his identity and memories, Agent K remembers that he partially neuralysed himself to erase what he knows of the Light of Zartha but left some clues to follow in case he needed to find out again.

Putting Laura under protection with various aliens, Agents J and K recover a video containing a fictional dramatisation of how, long ago, Queen Lauranna of Zartha entrusted the MiB agency to guard the Light from her enemy Serleena. Agent K could not save the Queen from the murderous Serleena so he neuralysed himself in order to forget his grief and at the same time forget what the Light of Zartha was and where it was held. The agents return to the place where they placed Laura but discover she has been abducted by Serleena.

While Smith and Jones work very well together – indeed, the movie limps along until Agent K recovers his memories (although the speed at which they come back is unconvincing and much potential fun is lost along the way) – and do what they can to maintain the old zing and energy from the previous film, the plot is flat and the entire film has a cheap and cheesy tone. Gags such as the talking-dog gag quickly wear thin and even scenes featuring Jeff the giant monster living in the NYC subway are not very scary. While Laura plays a significant part in the film, the romance angle between her and Agent J is very brief and superficial, and the heartbreak climax in which Laura discovers her true heritage and must go to Zartha does not give the film the emotional edge it could have had.

The message that once someone becomes an MiB agent, s/he is always an MiB agent, and the corollary that MiB agents can never be normal people with normal lives and normal relationships, but are permanently wedded to their employer, is present but unfortunately the script does not make more of it than it does. Similar could be said for characters like Laura, Serleena and Charlie and Scrad: what are their motivations, why exactly is Serleena interested in the Light of Zartha, and what do Charlie and Scrad hope to get out of working with Serleena? There are many interesting ideas in this film that could have made it much more entertaining, a little bit on the scary side, and perhaps even a bit thoughtful. What a pity that these ideas were not allowed to help write what could have been a good script.

Batman & Robin: so one-dimensional, it should be called “Flatman & Ribbon”

Joel Schumacher, “Batman & Robin” (1997)

Some folks probably call this film “Flatman & Ribbon” for the fact that the Dynamic Duo (played respectively by George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell) get well and truly steamrolled by a lousy stereotypical script in which two villains become a megalomaniacal tag-team with no motive other than to literally remake the world to their desires and hog screen time with their over-acting, silly puns and outlandish costumes. A big part of the blame must go to director Schumacher for steering the Good Ship Gotham Universe too close to the camp live-action television show that starred Adam West as the Dark Knight. The cast of actors which include Arnold Schwarzenegger as chief villain Mr Freeze, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson / Batgirl does what it can but the movie is far too crowded with them all and most of their characters end up so one-dimensional they may as well be paper cut-outs. “Flatman and Ribbon” indeed.

At least the script tries to inject an emotional element in a sub-plot about the importance of family and family loyalties by having Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough) fall ill with the same mysterious ailment that befell the wife of Mr Freeze who desperately needs money for research on a cure for the illness which puts her in a permanent coma. Mr Freeze embarks on a life of crime stealing diamonds that power his suit to keep his metabolism at subzero temperatures due to a laboratory accident. With Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze, the villain’s desperate quest to revive his wife takes centre stage but Alfred’s illness is always in the background to remind Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson of the importance of being partners and working together, and to rope in Alfred’s niece Barbara Wilson who comes to Wayne Manor to look after her uncle. The scenes with Alfred are very touching and feature some good acting from Clooney who otherwise provides a sunny and not so tortured interpretation of Bruce Wayne / Batman throughout the film.

While on his mission to steal more diamonds including one from an observatory that Wayne Enterprises sponsors, Mr Freeze meets Poison Ivy, herself created from a chemical laboratory mash-up, who gets him out of jail and tries to wangle her way into his cold-hearted affections by pulling the plug on his wife. Together the two plot to freeze Gotham City and then the entire world with the assistance of Poison Ivy’s subordinate Bane, a huge monstrosity created with a drug called Venom. Fortunately the Dynamic Duo and Batgirl foil the Dastardly Duo’s plans and put them back into prison, but not before an endless and tiresome series of explosions, enough car crashes to turn all of Gotham City’s scrapyard merchants into millionaires, lots of dead bodies and other collateral damage, and too many implausible dramatic situations that would be impossible for even the most well-prepared superheroes to survive – or at least not risk shoulder dislocations or arms ripping off – all culminating in very sudden climatic change in negative Centigrade temperatures for Gotham City.

Little touches such as a conversation between Bruce Wayne and Alfred about being able to control the chaos around oneself – always an ongoing issue with Batman and those like him who view the world as essentially needing constant repair lest it fall back into even more evil and corruption – and Batman himself offering Mr Freeze a chance to redeem himself at least make some parts of an otherwise tired and bloated film franchise in need of new ideas bearable. Little surprise then that this flatlining film did not do so well at the box office and the film franchise ended with it.

Men in Black: a sci-fi comedy sending up intel agencies and immigration issues

Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black” (1997)

Very loosely based on the original comic series of the same name, in which a secret organisation called The Men In Black polices the activities of extraterrestrial aliens on Earth and keeps these hidden from the rest of humanity, this film turns the original source material into parody and satire poking fun at bureaucracy and secret intelligence agencies, and posits the notion that even underground organisations investigating conspiracy-theory / tinfoil-hat topics need new blood, new ideas and a fresh way of thinking to survive. MIB Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) needs a new partner after his old one retires when a mission proves too sticky for them both. Coincidentally a new potential replacement presents himself when New York City police officer James Edwards (Will Smith) pursues a suspect into a museum. Impressed with the cop, Agent K interviews him and encourages him to apply for a vacancy with the MIB agency. After undergoing various tests, in which he supplies original and wacky solutions, Edwards is accepted into the agency, his old identity and former civilian life are expunged from New York City records, and he becomes Agent J.

While all this is happening, an alien searching for an energy device called the Galaxy, cunningly hidden in a cat’s collar jewel, kills a farmer called Edgar (Vincent d’Onofrio) and takes on Edgar’s form, though it is very ill-fitting. The Edgar alien kills two other aliens disguised as humans and their murders are reported in The National Enquirer (a newspaper specialising in conspiracy theories and UFO sightings). Agents K and J read about the murders and Agent K guesses the Edgar alien is a “bug” (ie cockroach alien). The two agents consult an alien informant disguised as a pug dog and follow other information to find the Edgar alien having kidnapped a morgue coroner (Linda Fiorentino) and in possession of the Galaxy.

The plot is simple and straightforward to follow, though once Edwards becomes J, it no longer becomes interesting and the eccentric zany quality fades out. What the narrative ends up becoming is a standard crime caper with two agents who are mirror opposites in almost every way – Agent K is very much an organisation man while Agent J retains his individuality and quick-thinking, quick-talking flair even after his fingerprints have been burnt off and his old name has been forgotten. Jones and Smith work well together as a comedy team, and their chemistry together and mix of deadpan humour and wit hold the film together. D’Onofrio, Fiorentino and Rip Torn also hold their own well though Fiorentino is underused.

The central theme of the film could be summed up as “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, to use that old cliched proverb, as plenty in the film, including characters, plot twists and various other elements, have the element of surprise. Humans living unremarkable lives turn out to be aliens in disguise, an old car suddenly displays advanced technology, and a tiny gun packs an almighty punch and a huge recoil. The concept of individuality is examined, even if in a simplistic way: a man may lose his name and past but is his individuality, his sense of self, erased as well? Or will it be just a matter of time before Agent J becomes as much an MIB organisation man as Agent K? Will the real conflict be between Agent J in trying to maintain his individual style and way of thinking, and perhaps change the organisation, on the one hand and on the other the MIB agency itself in moulding Agent J into yet another faceless MIB agent and staying the same, at the risk of becoming stale and bureaucratic?

The film also has something pithy to say about the perennial issue faced by Western countries regarding immigration and how law and order institutions deal with illegal migrants. The lesson to be learned is that most migrants, even illegal ones, desire to lead normal lives and keep their heads down.