Thirsty Thursdays 97: Men in Black

Welcome to Thirsty Thursdays on We Live Entertainment wherein writer Kristen Lopez will take a look at some of the hottest years in film history starting with 1997.

I apologize in advance if the format of this review, analysis, isn’t pretty. When I initially pitched this column it was a means of letting me fangirl over the sheer amount of beautiful actors and actresses that littered the features of 1997, the year I dub one of the thirstiest. It’s unclear why 1997 was such a sexy year.

Maybe it was because as a millennial, looking at everything through hindsight, it just seemed like so many films were using the gaze in unique ways (Titanic), putting a slew of talented and good-looking actors in one feature (Inventing the Abbotts), or were just aware that in a year where our economy was prospering and we weren’t mired in war that we could afford to thirst a little. This column is both an appreciation and analysis of how attractiveness came through in 1997.

With the release of Men in Black: International last week it’s worth it to return to the beginning when Will Smith was “Mr. 4th of July” in the first Men in Black. Based on the comic by Lowell Cunningham, Men in Black follows a young man inducted into a shadowy organization known for monitoring the world and its interactions with extraterrestrials. Paired up with the crotchety Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), the newly minted Agent Jay (Smith) must learn the ropes while protecting New York from an evil alien.

Smith had already proven his transitions from television to the big screen the year prior with another alien invasion movie, Independence Day. And while that film had plenty of eye candy in itself his interactions within Men in Black allowed him to be both restrained and madcap depending on the situation. The patented style known as Will Smith is on-display from his first minutes of screentime as he chases down a perp evading arrest.

As he slams the man against a wall the comparisons between his work in Bad Boys (1995) and the aforementioned Independence Day are evident but it isn’t until he is recruited by Agent Kay that he’s able to transition away from the tough cop into the smooth-talking leading man we’d all be thirsty for. With a slick pair of sunglasses and a classic black suit, the audience agreed that Smith “ma[de] this look good!” Smith always played the attractive other half in his features, whether that be alongside Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys, but he carried the thirst completely in Men in Black.

Complementing his Agent Jay is Linda Fiorentino’s coroner, Laurel Weaver. Fiorentino was a hot commodity throughout the ‘90s; her best work being as the femme fatale in the ‘90s neo-noir, The Last Seduction (1994). Fiorentino, who was infamously blackballed from Hollywood by being labeled “difficult,” works as a solid romantic foil opposite Smith. Her husky voice keeps her noirish roots that were seen in The Last Seduction in-tact. But it’s her confidence that’s attractive and actually rattles Smith’s Jay at times. When the alien bug has taken Laurel hostage, hiding under a gurney, Laurel attempts to warn Jay of what’s going on. But because Jay himself is perceived as all talk, he fails to interpret Laurel’s aggressive come-ons as a cry for help. When the villain has finally discovered it is Laurel who calls out Jay about believing every woman is throwing themselves at him. It’s an incredibly hilarious come-down for Smith’s character and perpetuates Fiorentino’s own attractiveness. Now if only she’d been allowed to stick around for the sequel as Jay’s new partner!

Best Moment of Thirst: Easily when Jay reveals himself in full Men in Black attire for the first time. He’s so charming and dapper rocking that suit it’s enough to get you through the next two movies where that’s his only costume.

The first Men in Black remains a fun, quirky sci-fi actioner and cemented Smith’s status as a leading man whose irrepressible attitude was incredibly captivating. Add Fiorentino’s femme fatale appeal and you have a movie built to make you laugh and lust!

Written by
Kristen Lopez is a disabled freelance film critic and pop culture essayist whose work on has been published on Forbes.com, The Hollywood Reporter, and Roger Ebert. She's been spotlighted as a critic to watch by the Los Angeles Times. She also runs the podcasts Ticklish Business and Citizen Dame.

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