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Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play top secret dark-suited government agents who police extraterrestrial visitations in this flick

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MEN IN BLACK

Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D'Onofrio

Director Barry Sonnenfeld

Opens July 2

An $80 million Will Smith aliens-on-Earth sci-fi spectacular opening on the Fourth of July weekend — why does that sound so familiar? ''This movie is drastically dif-ferent from Independence Day,'' promises Smith. ''It's an all-out comedy. It's much brighter and the aliens are a lot cuter.'' The premise: Smith and Jones are top secret dark-suited government agents who police extraterrestrial visitations — sort of like Ghostbusters meets The X-Files. (''The X-Files?'' asks Jones. ''That's a TV show, isn't it? Never seen it.'')

Loosely based on Lowell Cunningham's Men in Black comics, the project has been hovering around Hollywood for several years, enduring one casting change after another. First, Chris O'Donnell was slated for Smith's part but backed out because he felt there was too much similarity between the character and his Robin alter ego in the Batman flicks. Then David Schwimmer was mentioned as a possibility, and he stayed that way. Director Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty) came aboard in mid-development, replacing Les Mayfield (Encino Man). In fact, one of the few involved from the beginning was Jones — a point that had Sonnenfeld a tad terrified at first.

''I saw Tommy do a TV interview a few years ago, and he was so mean I remember thinking 'Thank God I never have to work with this jerk,''' he says. ''But I ended up loving every minute of it. He can be difficult if you don't have clear opinions, but we got along extraordinarily well.'' UPSIDE ''I've been a little successful with the July 4 weekend,'' Smith concedes, ''so I'm feeling pretty confident these days.'' DOWNSIDE Sooner or later, movie audiences are going to get alien-ated.

Originally posted May 16, 1997 Published in issue #379 May 16, 1997 Order article reprints
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