Thursday, June 12, 2008


Review: Be Kind Rewind
4 stars (out of 5)
by R. Kurt Osenlund

I felt a strong wave of the unifying power of cinema wash over me at the end of “Be Kind Rewind,” and I didn’t see it coming. The quirky comedy, that’s tailor-made for movie lovers and born from the mind of the visionary Michel Gondry, takes an unexpected turn in its final act that elevates it even higher than an above average funny film. Some viewers will like the tonal shift, and some will not. It worked for me, as did the rest of this splendidly goofy, surprisingly heartwarming tale.

Remember VHS tapes? Well, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) is presumably one of the last purveyors of the nearly-ancient format, renting out videocassettes for a dollar a day from his creaky, old corner shop in Passaic, New Jersey. The place is a tenement, and it’s set for demolition unless Fletcher can bring it to code at the tune of nearly $60,000. This sour news sends him on a soul-searching pilgrimage, leaving smart and sensitive Mike (Mos Def), the sole employee who lives upstairs, in charge. The only ground rule Fletcher lays down upon departure is for Mike to keep Jerry, Mike’s childhood friend and the disheveled town mechanic, out of the store. That request proves much easier said than done. When Jerry’s hair-brained scheme to knock out the town’s power supply goes awry and turns him into a walking electromagnet, his return to the premises erases every tape in stock and leaves Mike with one heck of a dilemma.

Miss Falewicz, the shop’s oldest and most loyal customer (played by the fail-safe Mia Farrow), has her eye on a copy of “Ghostbusters.” If she’s not waited on promptly, she’ll give her close friend Fletcher a bad report. Seeing no other options, Mike decides to shoot his own version of the film, starring Jerry and himself as the ghoul-nabbing quartet. The makeshift, 25-minute remake ends up in the hands of Miss Falewicz’s punk grandson and his friends, and soon, word-of-mouth sends people from all across Passaic over to Be Kind Rewind (oh yeah, it’s the name of the store, too) to have their favorite films re-fashioned, Mike and Jerry style. With the help of Alma (Melonie Diaz), a pretty girl that they recruit from a local laundromat, the guerilla-filmmaking pair go on to put their own twist on titles as popular as “Men in Black” and as vanguard as “Gummo.” By the time Fletcher returns from his vacation (which consisted, mainly, of spying on the professional practices of major chains like West Coast Video), his little business is thriving like never before.

By far, the most entertaining parts of “Be Kind Rewind,” the movie, are the creatively haphazard methods in which Mike, Jerry and Alma re-stage some of the most influential pictures of the last two decades. Since Jerry has full access to a junk yard, the crew has a built-in prop department, which comes in handy in their re-imagining of "Robocop," to name just one. True movie fans will love watching iconic scenes given the slapstick treatment, and bask in the nostalgia of pre-DVD video renting. The film isn’t all fun and games, though. When the inevitable repercussion of copyright infringement rears its corporate head, compounded with the imminent threat of wrecking balls and bull-dozers, the story turns its attention to saving “Be Kind Rewind,” the store.

It is here that the movie takes a turn for, I thought, the better. Gondry, who started in music videos and recently brought his dreamy, eccentric style to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep,” has a number of rabbits in his hat. He spends the first two thirds of the film playing off of his trademark strengths, and then, incorporates elements of soul music and urban community that are more reminiscent of his acclaimed 2006 concert/comedy/documentary “Dave Chapelle’s Block Party.” There are continuous references to the life and career of jazz great Fats Waller throughout “Be Kind Rewind,” but it remains a seemingly ineffectual undercurrent until the final act. At the risk of revealing too much, when all hope seems lost for these characters, they band together to create a commemorative, pseudo-biography of Waller, and Gondry cleverly uses the event to pay homage to the musician within his film. It may sound strange, and those who don’t know jazz (like me) may be a bit confused, but the fusion is successful; and with the combined efforts of the little New Jersey community, the film becomes less about antics and more about art’s ability to bring people together.

“Be Kind Rewind” has a weight that’s just right for my liking. It’s not too light (or even – empty), as so many comedies of today tend to be, nor is it too heavy in its eventual message. There’s a plentiful dose of humor to reel viewers in, and just enough heart and feeling to leave them with something more than just a belly full of laughs. Even Mr. Black’s involvement is served in appropriate portions, keeping his boisterous overacting on the sidelines rather than in the spotlight. That space is saved for the film itself, a clever gem that would be entertaining in any format.

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