Cast: Jack Black (Jerry), Mos Def (Mike), Danny Glover (Mr. Fletcher), Mia Farrow (Miss Falewicz), Melonie Diaz (Alma), Arjay Smith (Manny), Paul Dinello (Mr. Rooney) & Sigourney Weaver (Ms. Lawson)
French director Michel Gondry has yet to better Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, which seems to indicate he needs a writer of equal genius to hit a peak -- and Charlie Kaufman's the only candidate, really. Gondry's self-penned The Science Of Sleep bored me to tears with its style-over-substance, and when I heard Gondry would be writing and directing Be Kind Rewind (starring the overrated Jack Black) I wasn't overjoyed. But, while ultimately forgettable, Be Kind Rewind's refusal to go off-the-rails with its concept ensures warm entertainment while it lasts...
Mike (Mos Def) works at a video store owned by Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), one of the few places yet to upgrade from VHS to DVD, let alone Blu-ray. Threatened with closure because the building has been condemned for failing strict health and safety laws, Mr. Fletcher leaves in search of a epiphany, entrusting his business to Mike. Unfortunately, Mike's accident-prone friend Jerry (Black) wipes all the videos after becoming magnetized at the factory where he works. Faced with the prospect of putting kindly Mr. Fletcher out of business early, the duo concoct a plausibility-straining idea to remake the films as homemade "Sweded" versions...
Cue thrifty interpretations of Ghostbusters (tinsel for proton streams), Rush Hour 2 (on a child's climbing frame), 2001: A Space Odyssey (optical illusion genius), Men In Black (the upside-down car tunnel shot), RoboCop, Driving Miss Daisy, and others. Obviously this scheme doesn't fool anyone, but these "Mike & Jerry" versions become inexplicably popular, and demand quickly skyrockets.
Be Kind Rewind is less about seeing amusingly-cheap blockbusters, and more about how filmmaking can bring a community together. Once you've accepted the notion of a VHS-only video-store in 2008, and that two men would go to so much effort to fool customers, the film makes sense in the context of a modern parable. Throughout it all, there's the knowledge that the town of Passaic was the birthplace of Jazz musician Fats Waller, but New Jersey kids these days aren't aware (and don't care) about their local legend. By the end, when the community joins forces to create a Fats Waller biopic, Be Kind Rewind has succeeded in becoming a charming, heart-warming fable.
That said, there's not really enough plot to sustain 94-minutes properly, and Jack Black seems hamstrung by a role that requires a balance between his patented man-child shtick and quiet introspection. Mos Def fares better, as he's less burdened by expectations and able to create a truthful performance. Fortunately, the Black/Def chemistry is strong -- even making me feel a genuine Ghostbusters remake, with them as stars, wouldn't be a bad idea. Danny Glover and Mia Farrow (as ditzy citizen Miss Falewicz) seem half-bewildered by it all, but have a quiet solemnity that compliments Passaic's down-at-heel vibe.
Throughout, Gondry's enthusiasm and love of all movies is obvious -- just note the eclectic mix of crowd-pleasers, classics, and bottom-shelf crud that gets re-enacted or referenced. He's certainly not elitist in his celluloid choices. Unfortunately, Be Kind Rewind's at its most entertaining when Gondry's copying films on a shoestring budget, and that aspect doesn't take up much screentime. Indeed, the trailer contains all the best bits, so although I was heartened to discover there was more than idle spoofery to the film, things are rather languid outside of its film-fakery.
Still, it's charming and diverting enough to pull you through, and the core messages get through. Enjoyment comes from how you approach Gondry's latest: if you expect a cavalcade of cut-price film spoofs, you'd be best off visiting YouTube; but if you're in the mood for something gently amusing, and deeper than the premise indicates, this is for you. But, like the film's videos, it'll be erased from your memory hours later.
New Line Cinema
Budget: $20 million