Be Kind Rewind

Abbot Genser/New Line Cinema
Michel Gondry/United States 2008

Michel Gondry’s incandescent imagination is always hypnotic (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind), even when it is nearly indecipherable (The Science of Sleep). Be Kind Rewind, every bit as creative as his earlier films, is also his most funny and endearing.

Best friends Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def) are childhood friends living in Passaic, N.J., a suburb of New York City that looks like the town that the economic stimulus package forgot. Jerry is a mechanic/junkyard worker who lives in the shadow of the power plant and is convinced that microwave radiation is slowly killing him. One day, after trying to sabotage the machinery, Jerry is caught in an electromagnetic field and magnetized. Confused and disoriented, he wanders into the local video store owned by Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) and staffed by Mike. Inadvertently, Jerry erases all the tapes in the store where Mr. Fletcher stubbornly refuses to modernize with DVDs.

In order to keep the store’s one and, perhaps, only loyal customer (Mia Farrow), the two concoct a ludicrous plan – they will re-shoot each of the films themselves. Using materials from Jerry’s junkyard – an old VHS camcorder – and a lot of help from Alma (Melonie Diaz), who works at the local laundromat, Jerry and Mike re-create everything from Ghostbusters to Driving Miss Daisy, Robocop to The Lion King. Jerry and Mike’s films look like the sort of stuff kids used to make before computers armed even the greenest amateur with a battery of professional editing and special effects tools.

Word gets out and suddenly the entire town descends on the store, curious to see what their favorite film would look like with Jerry and Mike’s creative touch. As new life is breathed into the dilapidated business, Mike and Jerry find themselves staring down the double barrel of greedy developers with wrecking balls and an army of irate Hollywood lawyers.

The cast, an eclectic mix if ever there was one, works splendidly. Black is always hilarious even if all his films aren’t. Mos Def does a great job as the whiny straight man to his rotund partner’s increasingly zany ideas. Farrow is adorable, and it’s great seeing Glover getting more screen time of late.

Be Kind Rewind may be the least ambitious of Gondry’s films, but it is also his most accessible. For those Goldilocks’ who found his earlier work either too befuddling or too ridiculous, this film is just right. It sparkles with movie-making magic, reveling in the joy of the craft over the precision of the end product.

The end of Be Kind Rewind is pure Frank Capra. It as pure and as beautiful and as timeless as anything you’ve ever seen. It celebrates the communal magic of movies not only in how Jerry and Mike’s cinematic entrepreneurship draws their on-the-ropes New Jersey community together but in the reason why we go to movies in the first place – to lose ourselves and our problems in a darkened temple of flickering light, if only for a moment.

© 2008 Brandon Fibbs. All rights reserved.

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