Thursday, March 27, 2008


Michel Gondry is a fascinating and ingenious artist. He combines realistic camerawork with surrealistic images effects to create visionary new worlds that sit in a weird middleworld between fantasy and reality, between the past and the present.

Be Kind Rewind is the perfect example of Gondry's work, even if it is not anywhere near a great film, because it embraces the oddity and ingenuity of the filmmaker's unique spirit.

Jack Black and Mos Def star as Jerry and Mike, employees of a run-down New Jersey video store where they still rent VHS tapes to their very small, very loyal set of customers. The two guys are left in charge of the store when the owner (Danny Glover) goes out of town, and in a crisis of the zaniest variety, Jerry accidentally becomes magnetized (don't ask, just go along) and upon entering the store, wipes all the information from the tapes, rendering the store's entire outdated VHS stock obsolete.

The solution? Well, remake the movies, of course! And from Ghostbusters to Rush Hour 2 and even 2001: A Space Odyssey, that's exactly what Jerry and Mike do-with a ridiculous ingenuity not seen since...well, since Michel Gondry. It is in the 'remake montage' that the film hits its stride, most likely because the clever montage was Gondry's initial idea, and he based the rest of the screenplay around that one scene.

Fantastical plot elements aside, Be Kind Rewind does seem like precisely the kind of story someone like Gondry would pen. While we are certainly encouraged to laugh at Jerry and Mike's haphazard filmmaking efforts, with their clunky, early-90s video camera and their homemade special effects, we are also invited to revel in the sheer audacity and undeniable goodwill with which they approach their cinematic pursuits.

Be Kind Rewind's story is simplicity wrapped in a complex wrapper, not unlike Gondry's very best film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jerry and Mike remake a lot of movies, and rent them out to a seemingly unwitting public. But their personal touches-rough as they may be-are able to bring their viewership together in a way the original films could not. And in its innocent way, the film celebrates the humanity and heart of upstart filmmakers, and the communities that embrace them.

So...was that a positive review? Well, yeah, sort of. Gondry is-I'll say it again-the perfect director for this material. His unique visual touches enliven the screen. As a writer, however, he seems unable to fully expand on his high concept to really make the film sing all the way through. If Be Kind Rewind was co-written by Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, it could have soared in a way this current version does not.

But the film is fun in its slight, goodhearted way, and Black and Def make for an amusing team. Glover adds solid support, as does Mia Farrow as one of Jerry and Mike's supportive customers. And indy actress Melonie Diaz (from the great, great Raising Victor Vargas) is a standout burst of sunshine as the third wheel of Jerry and Mike's filmmaking crew.

Be Kind Rewind is not the brilliant film is could have been...but it is the genial, high-spirited film that it is, and that is (just) good enough for me.

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