Be Kind Rewind (2008): Silly Movie from Michel (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)Gondry

Easily the weakest and silliest of Michel Gondry’s films, “Be Kind Rewind” is basically a short stretched to the limits of a feature-length comedy. The movie is based on a single idea, which is not a bad one: two desperate videostore clerks shooting their own renditions of Hollywood blockbusters like “Ghostbusters” and “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Unfortunately, the movie suffers from repetition that almost drowns the whole enterprise before it reaches its anticipated conclusion.

Writer-director Gondry is known for his fiercely inventive mind, as was evident in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and other films, but in “Be Kind Rewind,” he has run out of ideas, spinning the same tale over and over again. End result is a movie that has a promising beginning and a joyous finale, but is burdened with a dull and irritating center, once you get the whimsical idea that serves as the motor for the slender fable. If you didn’t read the credits, you would think that “Be Kind Rewind” was made by a grad of film School or first-time director–it’s that raw and amateurish.

What begins as a tale of two childhood friends, both misfits, who inadvertently get caught up in a scheme to rewrite film history, and in the process rejuvenate their entire community, gradually turns into a tedious comedy that pretends to be witty, sort of “inside Hollywood” flick, with numerous references to fave and cult pictures, past and present, some of which made by New Line, such as the “Rush Hour” franchise; there’s also a poster of “Lord of the Rings.”

Receiving its world premiere at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, “Be Kind Rewind” will be dismissed by most critics as a minor, inconsequential work. Which means New Line Cinema faces an uphill battle in putting this movie over with a broad audience, when it hits theaters on February 22, by which time the negative reviews and word-of-mouth might cause considerable harm. Natural habitat for this derivative flick is DVD land, where it may develop some cult following among movie geeks and VHS cultists and collectors.

Saga is framed by black-and-white footage of a biopic celebrating the legendary musician Fats Waller. Rest of the film, which is set in provincial Passaic, New Jersey, is in color, and is done in a pseudo-gritty, semi-amateurish, but unappealing style, which might be a function of the movie’s ideological scheme and/or the low budget allocated for production values, which are way below the norm. But I’m certain that it’s not the fault of cinematographer Ellen Kuras who is a distinguished pro.

“Be Kind Rewind” is yet another comedy that rests on a central interracial odd couple. Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def) are childhood friends living in Passaic, trying to make ends meet. Jerry, the neighborhood mechanic, lives in a trailer near the power plant, which he claims, in a state of semi-hysteria and paranoia, is killing him with its microwaves.

Mike lives and works in the local video rental store, Be Kind Rewind, struggling to keep the ailing business owned by his boss, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) financially secure and physically in one piece, since the building doesnt meet city codes and is subject to demolition. Stubbornly refusing to modernize his store to the standards of the local chain DVD rental stores nearby, Fletcher is an old-fashioned guy.

According to Mr. Fletcher, the worn-down video store was once home to Jazz legend Fats Waller, who reportedly was born in this tiny and remote location long before videotapes had been invented. A lifelong devotee and worshipper of Waller, Fletcher decides to make the trip to commemorate Fats death, leaving Mike in charge of the store, which means keeping the accident-prone Jerry away from the shop. Boarding a train, he has no chance to warn Mike explicitly, instead leaving a piece of paper with a note that reveals his illiteracy.

When Jerry decides the time has come to sabotage the towns power plant, he accidentally gets caught in an electromagnetic field. Jerry returns to the store the next morning, confused and disoriented, and begins wandering the aisles of the video store. Unknowingly, his magnetized brain erases each and every videotape in the store, forcing Mike and Jerry to concoct a plan to start remaking or swedeing–all the erased films the townspeople want to rent, hoping that Fletcher will never find out.

Using a few hastily-made props and a video camera from the store, the duo start by creating their own version of Ghostbusters for their loyal customer, Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow), an old, chatty lady who has never seen the film. Never mind that the result is a complete mess. The ragtag filmmakers soon realize that in order for their ruse to work, they have to start remaking as many films as they can to keep their customers happy.

Realizing they will need help with their filmmaking efforts, Mike and Jerry enlist a worker at the local cleaners, Alma (Melonie Diaz) to help them in their quest. Though all three ore misfits, or outsiders in one way or another, race factor is unmistakably visible in the formation of this entrepreneurial team: a
working class white, a black, and a Latina.

Lo and behold: Using a few inventive camera tricks and some special effects, their movies become instant town classics. Surprisingly, word of mouth spreads about their hilarious remakes and the films become huge hits. Everyone comes in, requestingor rather demandingtheir favorite films to be remade.

The demand for their tapes booms and so does the size of their crew. Other people in the neighborhood start chipping in to re-envision various dramas, comedies, action films and even animated classics. Soon, there are separate lines for each Hollywood genre.

But with Hollywood lawyers at their door and the imminent return of Mr. Fletcher, Mike and Jerry must find a way to continue their creative endeavors and rally their community.

Trying to recreate in spirit, if not charm, a Frank Capra fable of the Depression era, Gondry goes out of his way trying to find resourceful strategies for the central duo so that their tiny store, one with huge aspirations to please and satisfy all the “little people,” would survive. As much as one is happy to see the formation of a community, rooting for reviving and reliving its past, a rare sight in American movies, this time around Gondry’s usually reliable imagination for whimsical and lyrical moments seems to have dried.

Cast

Jerry – Jack Black
Mike – Mos Def
Mr. Fletcher – Danny Glover
Miss Falewicz – Mia Farrow
Alma – Melonie Diaz
Craig – Chandler Parker
Wilson – Irv Gooch
Manny – Arjay Smith
Ms. Lawson – Sigourney Weaver

Credits

A New Line Cinema release presented in association with Partizan Films of a Partizan Films production.
Produced by Michel Gondry, Julie Fong, Georges Bermann.
Executive producers, Toby Emmerich, Guy Stodel. Co-producer, Ann Ruark.
Directed, written by Michel Gondry.
Camera: Ellen Kuras.
Editor: Jeff Buchanan.
Music: Jean-Michel Bernard.
Music supervisor: Linda Cohen.
Production designer: Dan Leigh.
Art director: James Donahue.
Set decorator: Ron von Blomberg.
Costume designers: Rahel Afiley, Kishu Chand.
Sound: Pawel Wdowczak.
Visual effects supervisor: Fabrice Lagayette.
Visual effects: BUF.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 100 Minutes.