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Wacky Be Kind Rewind Has Lots of Laughs

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jun 20, 2008
Wacky <i>Be Kind Rewind</i> Has Lots of Laughs

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.

When the neighborhood community expresses interest in the “Sweded” films, the heroes achieve something they hadn’t sought. The locals long to be part of the movies, and they sign on as performers and spectators. Will the store’s revived popularity help save it from the wrecking ball? The silliness mounts as the “Sweded” titles multiply, until a law-enforcement official (Sigourney Weaver) arrives to put the kibosh on the operation.

The film’s conclusion, set to beautiful piano music, shifts away from the quirky humor and highlights a nostalgic love of cinema reminiscent of Cinema Paradiso. But Gondry’s film is, until then, a much more irreverent affair, sending up the not-so-sacred cows of 1980s and ’90s megahits while showcasing a fading film culture. That culture is not represented by the mainstream action/adventure and comedies that, as Fletcher comes to learn, dominate the selection at the successful video chains, but the documentaries and older movies that continue to cast their spells over viewers willing to give them a chance.

Be Kind Rewind is a hip film with a traditional message: The old ways may have to yield to the new, but sometimes we need to be reminded of the simple power of community. Be Kind Rewind does that. It won’t work for every viewer, but those who respond to Gondry’s strange style will treasure the experience.

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  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; profanity; bragging about sexual exploits and lack thereof.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Man takes a full bottle of aspirin and urinates in public; beer consumption; it is said that a historic figure “liked to get drunk.”
  • Sex/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence:  Man is nearly electrocuted; vomiting scenes are played for laughs; character is hit in the head with a frying pan; man chokes an employee; man has his arm twisted.
  • Crime:  Graffiti/vandalism; characters break glass doors to enter a video store after hours.