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Be Kind Rewind An Anachronistic, Underdeveloped Comedy

Be Kind Rewind (New Line Cinema, 2008)
Written and directed by Michel Gondry 

Has Michel Gondry already peaked? Maybe it’s unfair to always compare, but 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is arguably the most definitive film of the decade so far. Since then he’s directed the bland concert film, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, and Science of Sleep, which while visually interesting offered nothing cohesive enough to recommend.


And now we have Be Kind Rewind, a film full of great ideas that obviously needed some restructuring before going in front of the cameras. Maybe Gondry is going for something here that I just didn’t get, but as the credits started rolling, I realized I just didn’t care.


The basic plotline is interesting enough; Jerry (Jack Black), after a mishap at an electric plant, becomes magnetized, and erases all the videotapes at a struggling rental store (struggling because they haven’t understood they need to upgrade to DVD to stay in business). Jerry’s friend, Mike (Mos Def) is managing the store while his boss and adopted father, Elroy (Danny Glover), is away on business.


In an effort to save the store from going under, Jerry and Mike decide to film recreations of all of the movies, and are surprised to find out their 20 minute remakes start catching on, and they have more business than they can handle.


Gondry obviously is showing his love for film in all of its colors, and that’s fine. However, the scenes where they are filming what they eventually call “Sweded” copies do not show anything that I can imagine any movie crazed public would enjoy in the least. The “Sweded” scenes are not near as funny as the people involved would like you to think they are. The “Ghostbusters” infested preview is the main film they focus on, although “Rush Hour 2” gets a little love as well, but nothing in either of these situations makes you understand the attraction of the public.


That’s only one minor problem in the film. Jazz legend, Fatts Waller, is a subject matter that bookends the film. The movie opens with documentary-esque scenes that Mike and Jerry are recreating based on his life, and the film ends with the two friends making a movie about Fats to get the money back they lost due to copyright infringement over the “Sweded” films.


A lot of dialogue in Be Kind Rewind centers on the subject of Jazz and how it’s a forgotten genre of music. I can sort of see a correlation between the struggling video store, the neighborhood surrounding it, and how Jerry and Mike are a lot deeper and more creative than they would first appear, but it’s a longwinded way of getting to that point. And it’s not a very strong statement to base your entire film on either.


Finally, the acting is very strange in this film. Jack Black, at this point, mostly makes me uncomfortable. I think Black overall is a comic genius, but he needs writers and directors to help him control that energy. Between this and the Tenacious D film, Black has created two of the most schizophrenic performances I’ve ever seen, and if it was funny that would be fine, but it’s not. Mos Def, who has also proven to be a good actor in the past (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Sixteen Blocks) starts off with his character as if he has some sort of mental handicap; however, once they start making the films he seems more alert and confident. There was probably supposed to be a transition in there, but I didn’t see it.


Be Kind Rewind can at best be considered an interesting experiment, or maybe even a stream of consciousness thesis on the joy of creativity. At the worst, it’s a misguided and chaotic viewing experience. I tend to lean more toward the latter; the film just never really came together enough for me to make any sense of my surroundings.


Sam Loomis

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