To say that Michel Gondry’s new movie “Be Kind Rewind” has a ridiculous premise would be correct, but it would be missing the point. This peculiar little film isn’t set in any kind of reality I’m familiar with, and that is wholly its charm. One clever moment that happens early in the movie is a big clue that we have entered into the writer/director’s playful imagination again:
Jerry (Jack Black) is convinced that a nearby power plant is trying to melt his brain, so he enlists the help of Mike (Mos Def), a clerk at a dilapidated video rental store in Passaic, N.J. During their conversation—which, like so much of the film, borders on being unintelligible—Jerry is wearing a jumpsuit with a strange pattern on it that’s repeated in the grease stains on his face. Later, when he is stopped trying to scale the plant’s fence by policemen, he freezes—and the chain-link fence pattern perfectly matches up with Jerry’s unusual look, camouflaging him from the cops. The kicker? A “Keep Out” sticker that carries over from the fence seamlessly onto the back of his pants.
It sounds like a bad scene from a Leslie Nielsen spoof movie, but in the context of the sweet sentimentality and nostalgic vibe of “Be Kind Rewind,” it’s lovable enough. You see, besides evil Hollywood executives who want money from people who don’t have any and evil city planners who want to renovate (a.k.a. destroy) the downtown area, the characters of Gondry’s film don’t have a mean bone in their body.
Danny Glover plays shop owner Mr. Fletcher with a bewildered sweetness, and Mia Farrow is his mercurial neighbor. After an accident too silly to explain, Jerry and Mike start shooting their own versions of popular VHS rentals like “Ghostbusters” and “Rush Hour 2,” and the store’s customers start requesting their home-movie-quality gems instead of the actual movies themselves. In the spirit of a movie that gleefully thumbs its nose at plausibility, Mr. Fletcher’s first reaction isn’t one of shock at the unlikely virtuosity of his feather-brained clerks, but anger at the fact that they have taken over the video store.
The crumbling downtown building represents everything old and quaint from a simpler, slower time. Out of a deep yearning for connection with the past, Mr. Fletcher likes to tell the story of how jazz legend Fats Waller was born in 1904 in his very store. His adherence to the dead format of VHS isn’t just out of stubbornness, but more a casual blind eye to encroaching modernity.
The sweet story of a crumbling community coming together to celebrate their outsider status takes shape by the end. Sure, it is pretty sugary, but as a tribute to no-budget ingenuity, “Be Kind Rewind” is a real treat. Jerry and Mike’s shorter, “sweded” versions of movies are wildly imaginative, and one sweeping montage of a whole lot of them is the best scene in the movie. It all leads up to a quirky documentary-style tribute to Waller that was hinted at in the beginning.
Without the substantial emotional weight of his screenplays for “The Science of Sleep” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (co-written with Charlie Kaufman and Pierre Bismuth), “Be Kind Rewind” falls short in the character development category, relying on a whimsical vibe, the charm of its actors, and ceaselessly inventive movie re-creations to get by.
For a fairly comprehensive list of the online “sweding” craze, check out this list of links to amateur “sweded” movies.