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Dustin Putman

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Be Kind Rewind  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Michel Gondry
Cast: Jack Black, Mos Def, Melonie Diaz, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Irv Gooch, Chandler Parker, Arjay Smith, Quinton Aaron, Gio Perez, Basia Rosas, Sigourney Weaver, Paul Dinello
2008 – 101 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for some sexual references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 20, 2008.
"Be Kind Rewind" is affectionate and loopy, but doesn't quite rise above its one-joke premise. Written and directed by Michel Gondry (2006's "The Science of Sleep"), the film is a nostalgic farewell to the glory days of mom-'n'-pop video rental stores, which, in the 21st century, are a relic of the past. In today's electronically advanced, consumer-driven society of "bigger, newer, faster, better," paradise is more or less being paved to put up a bunch of emotionally detached, high-tech chain stores. While this timely-enough comment is one worth noting, Gondry does not consider the other side of things. The fact is, VHS is obsolete for a reason, and no matter what warm and fuzzy memories it may bring up in those old enough to remember the VCR age, DVD is a vastly superior product that honors cinema in a way video cassettes never did.

With the homegrown, dilapidating Be Kind Rewind video store threatening to be torn down, aging owner Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) entrusts employee Mike (Mos Def) to run the place while he sets off on a trip to figure out how to save it. Disaster strikes when Mike's slacker friend and sometimes-worker Jerry (Jack Black) gets electrocuted and becomes magnetic, inadvertently erasing all of the VHS tapes in the store. With valued customer Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) demanding to rent "Ghostbusters," Mike and Jerry form a crazy plan to reshoot the movie in a few hours and pass it off as the real thing. To both of their surprise, it works, and soon the store has turned into something of a sensation within the town, the clientele getting in on the act and helping them to remake the store's entire film catalogue.

"Be Kind Rewind" should be credited for avoiding the Hollywood route to a happy ending. Writer-director Michel Gondry is smart enough to realize that this gonzo-filmmaker ploy is not, ultimately, a means to a solution, but simply a way for the customers to hang on for a little bit longer to the quaint innocence of something they grew up with that seemingly the rest of the country has long-since passed by. That is a fresh and admirable topic to base a motion picture around, though this particular one lacks the ingenuity and depth to really make it fly.

The funniest scenes are the ones where Mike and Jerry endeavor to make "Ghostbusters," and the direct referencing to certain key moments in that 1984 film is cause for some hearty belly laughs. After this, the movies they remake—"Rush Hour 2," "King Kong," "Carrie," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "The Lion King," "Driving Miss Daisy," etc.—are not given the same thorough, biting treatment, most of them passing by in montage sequences. It is also a tough pill to swallow to believe that these thrown-together, no-budget retreads would actually please the people renting them, but no matter. While occasionally amusing, Gondry is unable to reclaim the hilarity of the initial "Ghostbusters" treatment.

Jack Black (2007's "Margot at the Wedding") is only adequate, more annoyingly juvenile than likable as Jerry, though his deficiencies might have more to do with the thinness of his character than the actor himself. As the more level-headed Mike, Mos Def (2006's "16 Blocks") is terrific playing the straight man. Also quite winning is Melonie Diaz (2005's "Lords of Dogtown"), very good at comedy in the role of Alma, the feisty, intelligent young woman Mike and Jerry hire to help them in their moviemaking quest. Finally, Mia Farrow (2006's "The Omen") is a joy as the earnest, encouraging Miss Falewicz. The casting of Sigourney Weaver (2008's "Vantage Point") as a villainous heavy who cites Jerry and Mike for copyright infringement is an odd one; since her name is previously featured, as is "Ghostbusters," a film which she starred in, it doesn't make sense that she shows up later on portraying a fictional character.

"Be Kind Rewind" has its share of attributes. The tone is light, sweet and whimsical, and the pacing is brisk enough that one doesn't really pay much attention to its leaps in logic. Still, the film works better in chunks rather than as a whole, and the central gag dries up before the third act. Cute but a little empty, "Be Kind Remind" boasts an original premise without the clarity of writing and character dimension to back it up.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman