Movie Review: Be Kind Rewind

By Matthew Huntley

February 27, 2008

Only one of the three doesn't need a bra.

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When it comes to making movies, most of us view Hollywood as the ultimate standard. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when you consider all the incredible films Hollywood has made over the past century. But when we dream of making it in this business, it's not the product we think about so much as the idea of touching many people, inspiring thought and making a difference. It's these things that make us feel good.

This is a prevalent theme of Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, a movie about two friends in a run-down New Jersey neighborhood who re-enact Hollywood movies with an old VHS camcorder. Why they do this I'll explain in a minute, but all their resources are home-made and created on the fly. It reminded me of when I was a kid and used to wear a towel around my neck pretending to be Superman. It might not have been perfect or very convincing, but it's all I needed.

Gondry's film takes a bow not only to the charm and imagination of people who work together with the smallest of means (and the greatest of ambitions) but also to the bigger players like Hollywood, which gives us dreams to aspire to. Be Kind Rewind is hardly a masterpiece, but it possesses a charm and many loveable characters that made me smile. It's a movie I could see myself liking more and more each time I see it.

Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def) live in Passaic, New Jersey, a town we're told is the real birth place of jazz music. It's not Harlem like many people think, at least not according to Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). He always told Mike that jazz legend Fats Waller grew up in the same building as his video and thrift store, a place called Be Kind Rewind. The store has been losing business for many years and faces condemnation if it's not brought up to code in 60 days. Otherwise, the state will tear it down and turn it into a condo.

When Mr. Fletcher leaves town for some R&D, he leaves Mike in charge but tells him to keep Jerry out, and with good reason since Jerry is a little kooky. He's afraid of the power plant next door to his junkyard home. One night, he sets out to sabotage it, but gets electrocuted and becomes magnetized. The next day, his magnetism erases all the videotapes in the store. Before Mr. Fletcher finds out, Mike comes up with the idea that he and Jerry will re-shoot all the movies by themselves. The first one is Ghostbusters because that's what long-time customer Mrs. Falewicz (Mia Farrow) wants to see.

To their surprise, the neighborhood locals actually like their re-enactments and want to see more. Requests start pouring in for Jerry, Mike and a girl from the dry cleaners named Alma (Melonie Diaz) to keep making imitations (Jerry says the movies are "Sweded" and the reason the prices are higher is because they're from Sweden). They hope their new endeavor can earn the $60,000 needed to save the store from being destroyed.


One thing they never count on is the legal ramifications of copyright infringement. A studio representative (Sigourney Weaver, nice touch) arrives and tells them they have to destroy all their movies or face the consequences. Surprisingly, the movie doesn't see this development as an attack on studios for crushing the dreams of the little guy. It actually inspires the characters to go after something bigger.

What I liked most about Gondry's movie was its playful and seemingly random structure (a style the director is known for). At times, I believed a lot of the dialogue and interaction between the characters was improvised, which isn't surprising since one of the movie's driving points is to be inventive, unpredictable and unbound by convention. It's a little crazy and aimless at times, but it's fun and completely harmless.

Like the re-enactments the characters create, I think Be Kind Rewind would have made a better short film. As a feature, many of the scenes feel redundant and the novelty of Gondry's screenplay wears thin. Yes, it is funny to see Jerry and Mike re-enact Robocop, Rush Hour 2, When We Were Kings, Driving Miss Daisy, and Lord of the Rings, but only to a certain degree. After a while, it's like watching somebody else's home movies. You can only take so much of it before you realize it's special for only those involved.

The ending is surprisingly unpredictable and bittersweet, reminding us that cinema is as much about the past as it is the present. Believe it or not, there are movie lovers out there who still rent VHS tapes; there are probably even some who still wait for movies to play on network television. Be Kind Rewind celebrates that nostalgia and the way cinema brings people together to create memory. Its other message is that while it may be the commercial blockbusters that inspire us, it's our own creations we'll remember for all time. Deep down, we hope others will too.



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