DVD Release Date:  June 17, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  February 22, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for some sexual references)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  101 min.
Director:  Michel Gondry
Actors:  Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz, Sigourney Weaver

A strange tale with a goofy premise, Be Kind Rewind doesn’t settle on what kind of story it wants to tell until well into its running time.

The film starts as an intergenerational tale about the passing of the torch from an older generation to a younger group, and serves as a wistful look at the fading days of video-rental shops. It evolves into a sci-fi slapstick comedy before settling into a series of cinematic recreations that play like gag reels. Yet somehow, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Director Michel Gondry’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) latest offering is tonally inconsistent and, with its films-within-a-film scenario, deliberately amateurish at times, but it’s also exuberant and joyous—a late Valentine to film lovers raised in the age of the blockbuster. It’s a film about film culture—not only the well-known blockbusters of Generations X and Y, but the nostalgia of video shops and communal joy of watching projected films with crowds of people.

The old ways of experiencing films—here represented by VHS tapes and pre-DVD-era megahits like Ghostbusters that are stocked at Be Kind Rewind, a failing New Jersey video shop housed in a building scheduled for demolition—are threatened by change. Its stock is limited to VHS tapes, but the owner, Fletcher (Danny Glover), is keeping an eye on the West Coast Video across the street for tips on how to survive. Should he transition to DVDs and sacrifice his documentary and older film titles in favor of a video selection concentrated heavily on comedies and action/adventure films?

Fletcher perpetuates a neighborhood legend that jazz great Fats Waller was born in the building that’s home to the video store. When he has to leave town, he entrusts the store to Mike (Mos Def), an employee eager to take on the responsibility. Fletcher has just one bit of advice for Mike: He must keep Jerry (Jack Black), an oddball who lives in the neighborhood junk yard but who spends his days roaming the video store’s aisles, out of the shop. Fletcher senses that Jerry will entice Mike with one of Jerry’s hair-brained schemes, and sure enough, shortly after Fletcher’s departure, Jerry convinces Mike to break into the neighborhood power plant, where they can “defuse” the supposed signals that Jerry claims are affecting his thoughts.

This is mental illness portrayed for loony laughs, but the tone of the film is gentle enough to allow viewers to laugh along without feeling guilty. Be Kind Rewind is just warming up, and the presence of Glover is a nice counterbalance to Black’s over-the-top hamminess.

Things don’t go as planned. When Jerry has a close encounter with the plant’s high voltage, he becomes magnetized and inadvertently erases all of the VHS tapes at Be Kind Rewind. Eager to keep the store’s few naïve customers happy, Jerry and Mike team up to make their own versions of the popular movies stocked at the store. They refer to their films as “Sweded” versions of the earlier films. First up is Ghostbusters, followed soon by Men in Black, Carrie, and Driving Miss Daisy.

If the premise sounds absurd, that’s because it is. Are we really to believe that the customers wouldn’t know that the wool is being pulled over their eyes? Gondry’s accomplishment is in making us not care. Although the film is not a fantasy, we’re happy to go along with the ride, as we watch Black play another amusingly manic character, with Def as his straight man.