Be Kind Rewind (2008) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual references
Running time: 102 min.
Cast: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz, Irv Gooch, Chandler Parker, Sigourney Weaver
Cameo: Kid Creole
Director: Michel Gondry
Screenplay: Michel Gondry
Review published June 20, 2008
Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) continues making films that, while straining plausibility to the point where any scrutiny is not allowed if you're going to have a chance to be entertained, serve up enough inventiveness and moments of thought to ultimately make the lapses in logic worthwhile. Be Kind Rewind is a quirky film, to say the least, and in many ways it reminds me of another cut film that proved too ambitious to gain a wide audience, Tapeheads, a 1980s film which also features a couple of eccentric best friends trying hard to shoot high-concept videos that will help them on the road to financial success (come to think of it, both films also feature a rabid obsession with an old-time musical act). However, that film was about the music video industry while this one is about the joys of filmmaking, even at its most rudimentary of levels, and the joy that they bring to the public at large. Really, the more of a movie buff you are, especially of the films of the 1980s, the more mileage you'll get in this loving homage to the years of entertainment gone by.
Mos Def (16 Blocks, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) plays Mike, an employee for his surrogate father Elroy Fletcher's (Glover, Shooter) one-stop shop for VHS rentals in Passaic, New Jersey, who spends most of his days idling without many customers, who've all seemed to flock to the local chain store that pushes nothing but DVDs. One customer always manages to come in, Jerry (Black, The Holiday), the junkyard manager down the street, and while the younger men have their bits of fun together, Mr. Fletcher thinks he's just bad news. How prophetic he would be when, while on vacation, Jerry ends up erasing every video tape in the store, the victim of his own scheme to sabotage a nearby power plant that goes awry, leaving him magnetized.
It couldn't come at a worse time, as the building Mr. Fletcher's store is in is undergoing a major redevelopment, and with his store falling far short of meeting building code standards, it's going to take Mr. Fletcher quite a bit of cash to afford the renovations necessary to stay in business and keep from being relocated to the projects. Meanwhile, the two knuckleheads try not to lose the few customers the shop has, and also not to let Mr. Fletcher down, so when a customer asks for a movie, they decide to give them what they want by completely recreating the film from scratch using their camcorder and whatever junk Jerry has lying around in the junkyard. Although not fooling anyone, the condensed homemade versions soon become a local hit with the neighborhood, and now lines form around the block for the latest innovative creation. But will they earn enough money to save the store?
Any film that asks us to believe that people in a struggling inner city neighborhood would gladly fork over $20 for a zero-dollar budget 20-minute knockoff of an old movie isn't exactly striving for believability, so temper expectations that Gondry makes his premise work on its own terms. These films are dubbed "sweded", as Jerry asserts their expense is due to them being imported from Sweden, though this makes no sense -- they're obviously made by the store clerks handing them the movies, and in the very same neighborhood the customers live in. Why would they buy such a notion?
Stranger still, the first film they recreate happens to be Ghostbusters. In a world where Ghostbusters exists, a film that has Sigourney Weaver (Snow Cake, The Village) in a supporting role should surely cause the characters to do a double-take when she first appears late in the film, and yet, no one bats an eye when her character walks into the store. This is a case where you have to push those notions aside to get to the meat of the comedy, and most of the comedy comes in seeing how two guys with practically no money or time can creatively recreate the big budget effects, sets and costumes of the Hollywood releases. Even so, the laughs are present, but much milder than you'd expect, and outside of the aforementioned Ghostbusters, they don't appear to be particularly humorous enough to wish we could see them in their complete form.
By normal qualitative standards, a film like Be Kind Rewind probably shouldn't merit a positive review. It's one of those films that is "more entertaining than good", so as long as you know that it plays like an extended skit comedy concept bolstered to feature length, you're more likely to come away with positive feelings. The ingenuity of the concept is certainly enough to give the filmmakers some credit for crafting a comedy that's different than most.
In addition, for such a high comedy concept, there is a melancholy theme underneath that is welcome, about the end of eras, from the jazz of the Fats Waller era, to the days of VHS, to mom-and-pop video stores, to independent filmmaking, to communities getting together for a common cause. The title encourages us to "be kind, rewind", which is not only the common phrase on stickers placed on VHS rental tapes, but also a suggestion to us as viewers that we should "rewind" the clock back to the older days when things were less corporate, and people were kinder to each other. It's a sad irony that the majority of viewers will view this in their own secluded homes, on DVD or Blu-Ray format, rented from chains like Blockbuster or purchased at Walmart.
Though Gondry doesn't infuse nearly enough plot motivations to succeed in making a truly well-schemed effort, these themes, as well as the conceptual cleverness and energetic performances, are just enough to bridge the credibility gaps of the story elements. Too uneven to please mainstream moviegoers, but just odd enough to please the cult comedy crowd.
©2008 Vince Leo