Be Kind Rewind


Jack Black as Jerry
Mos Def as Mike
Danny Glover as Mr. Fletcher
Melonie Diaz as Alma
Mia Farrow as Miss Falewicz
Irv Gooch as Wilson
Arjay Smith as Manny
Paul Dinello as Mr. Rooney
Sigourney Weaver as Ms. Lawson
Marcus Carl Franklin as James
Quinton Aaron as Q
P.J. Byrne as Mr. Baker
Blake Hightower as Chris
Chandler Parker as Craig
Gio Perez as Randy
Amir Ali Said
John Tormey as David Harley

Directed by Michel Gondry

Not as quirky as Gondry’s previous movies but not quite mainstream either, “Be Kind Rewind” has enough heart in the end to make up for the fact that it isn’t nearly as funny as its premise might suggest.

Passaic, New Jersey video store Be Kind Rewind is in danger of being demolished, so its owner Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) makes a pilgrimage to find out how to save it, leaving his assistant Mike (Mos Def) in charge of the store, his only edict to “Keep Jerry Out.” The Jerry in question (played by Jack Black) is a local troublemaker who proceeds to get himself magnetized and erase every video tape in the store. To keep the business afloat, Mike and Jerry, along with local dry cleaner Alma (Melonie Diaz), proceed to recreate all of the movies themselves hoping that Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow), who Fletcher has spying on them, won’t suspect how badly they’ve screwed things up.

“Be Kind Rewind” might be seen as filmmaker Michel Gondry’s attempt at making a mainstream comedy, and if that was his intention, he still has some ways to go before he’ll be seen as more than a quirky French video director with an odd sense of humor. This one has a stronger premise than “Science of Sleep” at least, one supposedly influenced by the story of three teens who made their own version of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”–a story being adapted for the screen by Gondry’s pal Dan Clowes–and it offers enough entertaining gags that one can overlook the “everything but the kitchen sink” structure that keeps things from ever being completely coherent.

It doesn’t take long to set-up the film’s premise, introducing Mike the video store clerk (Mos Def) and his bumbling friend Jerry (Jack Black), who gets himself magnetized when an act of sabotage goes wrong. Once all of the tapes in the store have been erased, it’s all about the home-made movies, starting with “Ghostbusters” and then “Rush Hour 2.” These slipshod productions are an instant hit, and the idea steamrolls until the demand is greater than their ability to produce the movies, even after bringing in a local drycleaner named Alma (the always adorable Melonie Diaz) to help them in scenes that require kissing.

The very idea of these incompetent filmmakers–not Gondry, but Mike and Jerry–trying to remake these big budget movies including all of the stunts and effects, is pretty ludicrous, and there’s a danger of that one central joke getting stale since it’s not nearly enough to carry a movie. To make up for it, Gondry throws a barrage of twists into the mix to disrupt Mike and Jerry’s thriving business, but it never takes any of these inventive ideas very far, bouncing around while trying to keep things light and whimsical. Surprisingly, a lot of the humor in the first half hour tends to be of the physical or bathroom variety, something unexpected considering the intelligence of Gondry’s past efforts.

Even so, it’s still very much a character-driven piece about the relationship between these two guys with their community, and Gondry’s cast is solid with Mos Def laying back to play the unwitting straight man to Jack Black, who essentially hams it up the whole movie. They both play genuinely likeable characters, and when you add Danny Glover to the mix, you have a trio of strong characters to keep things grounded despite the silliness. It’s hard to tell how tightly this film was scripted, since both Black and Def seem to be improvising a lot, especially in the scenes where they’re making their movies. Though Mia Farrow is a fine dramatic actress, she seems completely out of her depth doing any sort of improvised comedy, and her character comes across as so dizzy that you might wonder what she is doing in this movie at all.

The film opens with a home-made documentary about local jazz pianist Fats Waller, who Fletcher claims was born in the building where the video store was located, and eventually, it gets back to that, as the entire community gets into the act to tell a story of their surroundings after they’re given a wake-up call that their sweded videos are actually illegal. (That revelation comes in the form of a funny cameo appearance.) The whole thing leads to a warm and fuzzy ending, which ends the film abruptly, that you might be left wondering if anything really was properly resolved.

The Bottom Line:
While this clearly won’t be to everyone’s taste–a tolerance for Jack Black’s schtick will go a long way–but those who enjoy quirky comedies should get enough laughs out of Mike and Jerry’s antics to make this a fun experience. Anyone looking for something as deep and arty as Gondry’s previous work might be confused by his attempted foray into mainstream comedy, although there’s enough of Gondry’s trademark filmmaking mischief to appease the art school crowd, as well as a sweet message about embracing one’s neighborhood and community for everyone else.