Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 29, 2008)
Best known as the man behind The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, director Michel Gondry returns with 2008’s quirky comedy Be Kind Rewind. Mike (Mos Def) works as a clerk at a rundown video store. After his paranoid, goofball friend Jerry (Jack Black) becomes magnetized after a screwy attempt to sabotage a power plant.
When he goes away for a couple of days, store owner Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) warns Mike to keep Jerry out of the business. However, Jerry comes in anyway, and his magnetic status erases each and every videotape in the joint. When Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) threatens to expose this calamity to Mr. Fletcher unless they produce a VHS copy of Ghostbusters within four and a half hours, amateur filmmaker Mike comes up with a novel solution: he and Jerry will make their own version of the flick.
The ruse works, so they do it again when a customer requests Rush Hour 2. Not only do they pull off the gag, but also they find that their customers prefer the homemade editions. We follow the adventures of Mike and Jerry as they try to keep up with their new fame and all the customer demand – as well as an attempt to save the decrepit store from the wrecking ball.
When I saw the trailer for Rewind, I thought it looked like a fun movie. My main concern related to the flick’s “high concept” nature and the distinct possibility that it might blow its wad in its ad. Would the movie offer any laughs beyond the wackiness found in the commercial?
Yeah, but not to a tremendous degree. Once you’ve seen the trailer, you have a good idea what to expect from the film, and it doesn’t have a ton of surprises for the viewer. A lot of the flick revolves around the movie parodies, and that trend gets tiresome before long; it’s cute for a while but not something that can sustain a full feature.
When Rewind does manage to take a different path, it actually becomes even less interesting. The flick fills only 102 minutes, but it’s a long 102 minutes, largely due to the thin nature of the story. The film goes with a very simple plot about an attempt to save a building from its demise, so the homemade movies are the only twist.
Too much of Rewind feels muddled and barely coherent. It often seems incomplete, especially in terms of character development. None of the roles ever becomes anything more than one-dimensional. They exist as plot devices and don’t form into anything beyond that. Even with talented performers behind them, they’re essentially forgettable.
I can’t quite figure out what message Rewind wants to send beyond an emphasis on the strength of a community. Much of the time the flick feels like a Valentine to Passaic NJ, its setting; did the Chamber of Commerce create Rewind to encourage businesses to settle there? No, but it often feels that way, partially because Gondry a) has little story to tell, and b) can’t figure out a good way to tell what miniscule plot he has.
For instance, what’s up with the movie’s odd attack on DVDs? It seems to feel that everything old is better than everything new. The store’s building is ratty and falling apart, but we’re supposed to root for it because it’s not new and “gentrified”. Apparently VHS is better than DVD because it’s not new.
Huh? Gentrification is a complex issue with no real right or wrong; I can see both sides of that argument. However, I wasn’t aware that a pro-VHS faction still existed. Does anyone long for the old days of tapes? I don’t think so, but the film paints them in a romantic way and implies they’re “real”, unlike the cold DVD format.
There’s just too much soapboxing in the film. This extends to a tangent in which we compare a faceless mega-video store with an extremely limited selection to the one owned by our protagonists. I get the point that too many video rental spots have too few selections, but the flick portrays this issue in such a sloppy and haphazard way that it doesn’t stick.
Though that issue applies to most of Be Kind Rewind. I wanted to like the film and fully expected I would based on what I’d heard and my opinion of the folks involved. Unfortunately, I found a badly flawed, often dull movie with far too few laughs – and too little true heart – to keep me interested. There’s the seed of a good flick buried in this mess, but it can’t overcome all the flaws.