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Be Kind Rewind

Michel Gondry's first stab at broad-ish comedy is hit-or-miss, but his stroke of mediocrity is almost any other director's stroke of genius.


In the teensy-weensy town of Passaic, New Jersey, there exists a dying breed: a video-rental store--as in VHS, not DVD. Just across the street from said store exists a power plant. And in between the store and power plant exists a doofus named Jerry (Jack Black). Yeah, it's a disaster waiting to happen (at least in writer-director Michel Gondry's kooky mind). One night, when Jerry sets out to sabotage the power plant whose microwaves he swears are killing him, that disaster happens. He winds up getting zapped and, even worse, erasing the contents of every single tape at the nearby rental store, Be Kind Rewind. It was already at risk of being demolished in favor of an aesthetic upgrade to the building, but this turn of events would seem to be the nail in its coffin. And when a faithful customer (Mia Farrow) threatens to tell Be Kind Rewind's owner (Danny Glover) unless Ghostbusters is in stock by the end of the day, Jerry and his friend Mike (Mos Def), the store's loyal employee, must think and act quickly. And so they do, recreating Ghostbusters and every other movie that is requested for rental. Unwitting customers are none the wiser, and before long their store-made movies become a hit in the neighborhood and possibly a source of sufficient enough funds to save Be Kind Rewind from demolition. That is until Hollywood comes knockin'.


Jack Black continues to expand his comedic horizons with Be Kind, proving that virtually any role calling for funny has his name written on it. This isn't his prototypical flaunt-your-paunch, scream-like-a-maniac role, and as a result, Black's versatility within the realm has never been so apparent. He gives the well-meaning dimwit several layers--vulnerability, imagination, pitifulness, ambition--but maintains the recognizable energy for which we all know and love him for. Rapper-turned-actor Mos Def, however, is rather bland in playing straight-man to Black's klutz. It's occasionally a nice disparate dynamic between the two actors, but Mos, much like some of his past movies (16 Blocks, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), just doesn't seem suited for the style at play. Glover, meanwhile, is suited for Be Kind, lending stability to the quasi-fairytale as an old-school sage. Then there's Farrow, who only further tarnishes her once legendary status with another laughable role choice and performance. Of course, it's hard to ever look at Farrow the same way following her role in last year's worst movie, The Ex.


In a somewhat disappointing turn of events, Michel Gondry's (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) screenplay for Be Kind Rewind just doesn't make the grade. It goes from a silly conceit in the beginning to a way-too-feel-good ending, using filmmaking as a sappy, uniting-the-people cure-all to get from point A to B. And oddly enough, the movie often resembles a traditional, slapstick-y comedy. Luckily, Gondry the director comes to the rescue. Chief among his accomplishments here are the meta moments, the film-within-a-film sequences. The scenes are truly enlightening and elevate Be Kind a great deal. In fact, a movie full of such scenes would make a great next project for Gondry--and maybe would've made a better project out of Be Kind. The sequences, which thriftily remake mainstream classics like Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy and Robocop--the only kind of movies that would exist in a VHS-rental store--offer a glimpse into Gondry's fantasy mind, where the creativity wheels are always spinning and the camera is always rolling. Some of the remakes are featured in Be Kind's trailer, and it's unfortunately one of those cases where the trailer shows the movie's best parts. But it's still worth seeing, and his fans will likely not suffer such a letdown.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.