Michel Gondry has won himself a loyal following with his inventive storytelling seen in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Science of Sleep (2007). His delving into the psyches of fragile, quirky characters have resulted in visual treats of special effects and the sight of a keen imagination at work. Gondry’s visions have been the centrepiece of his films, so when it was revealed his latest, Be Kind Rewind would involve a pair of movie fanatics making bootlegs of major Hollywood blockbusters and award winners using only limited props and a handful of friends as extras, anticipation for seeing how he had re-interpreted Robocop, Ghostbusters and Driving Miss Daisy were high. Yet, while these trademark Gondry sequences are clever and very funny, they don’t provide the gloss to an already smart and witty offering. Rather, they pull the weight of a lethargic story.
Jack Black and Mos Def take centre stage in Be Kind Rewind as best friends Jerry and Mike. Mike (Mos Def) works at an old and struggling VHS rental store in Passaic, New Jersey where the aging owner, Mr Flecther (Danny Glover), claims legendary jazz musician Fats Waller was born. Meanwhile, junkyard worker Jerry (Black) lives in a motorhome with a plan to sabotage the local power station, frequenting the Be Kind Rewind store and helping promote it with a huge piece of graffiti under a bridge across the street. They are both slackers at heart, letting life saunter by at a leisurely pace until Mr Fletcher is threatened with closure due to redevelopment. Keeping quiet about the potential loss of his business, he leaves Mike in charge to spy on the more profitable DVD rental store in the neighbourhood. His last words are “Keey Jerry out” because he is likely to cause trouble, however, after a botched attempt to sabotage the power station, Jerry becomes magnetised and unknowingly wipes all the tapes in the store. When disgruntled customers start turning up to return their blank rentals, Mike and Jerry start making their own 20 minute versions of the movies with just the most famous scenes and budget props. Its not long before their “Sweded” films — so called as Jerry and Mike initially tell everyone they have to be imported from Sweden — are a cult hit and demands are made for more. The Sweded movies are the draw for Be Kind Rewind as they are hilarious, it’s just a shame what could have worked so well as a series of shorts get lost in too much navel gazing.
Be Kind Rewind will be remembered for the Sweded films, but hardly at all as a film that is so crucial to cinema that is should be Sweded itself.
Be Kind Rewind us a gard film to dislike, especially as it pays tribute to many cult favourites and takes a sideswipe at the solely business-minded side of Hollywood. The Sweded movies capture the potential magic of cinema and the way it brings people together. Essentially, this is the message Gondry is trying to purvey, one of shared experiences and cultural heritage adding up to a powerful, binding force. What his film is found to be lacking on this occasion is a consistently sharp interaction between his leads, Mike and Jerry. Perhaps it is because they are never entirely engrossing as a pair of friends.
Jack Black is as loud, brash and upfront as ever, while Mos Def’s limitations as an actor are all too clear as his reluctant hero is little more than looking a bit sheepish all the time. Together they are entirely predictable and it is up to Glover to bring some much needed spice to proceedings. Thankfully, whenever Ghostbusters, Rush Hour II or Robocop become Gondry’s focus for attention, it pays off handsomely with Black and Mos Def relishing the opportunity to lampoon and lark about with piecemeal sets. It’s sad that these are not the icing on the cake of Gondry’s normally masterful examinations of characters trying to overcome their flaws. Be Kind Rewind will be remembered for the Sweded films, but hardly at all as a film that is so crucial to cinema that is should be Sweded itself.