`Be Kind Rewind' is Clever but falls apart

February 20, 2008 10:14:55 AM PST
"Be Kind Rewind," the latest fantasy from the exceedingly fertile imagination of writer-director Michel Gondry, contains a wonderful nugget of an idea that will appeal to both regular moviegoers and hardcore film geeks alike.

The frantically useless Jerry (Jack Black) gets zapped by an electromagnetic field while trying to sabotage a power plant in Passaic, N.J., and ends up accidentally erasing every tape at the video store where his longtime friend, the low-key Mike (Mos Def), works.

So the two hatch a scheme to re-shoot a bunch of movies, starting with "Ghostbusters," and rent them out to unsuspecting customers like the dippy Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow, barely acting). They call the process "sweding" - as if the films came from Sweden, which is why it takes so long to get them in stock.

Not only do people in town not mind watching these makeshift movies, they fall in love with them. This helps revitalize the run-down store, owned by the old-school Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), who worships jazz pianist Fats Waller and refuses to convert to DVD. And here's where things fall apart, when the whole community ultimately comes together for the cinematic equivalent of a group hug.

"Be Kind Rewind" could have been a clever, biting satire about pop culture but instead feels too fluffy and sweet. Rather than rightly making fun of the often mass-produced, schlocky nature of so many movies that get pumped out of Hollywood, he seems to be embracing this aesthetic. (Another fundamental problem: The film takes place today rather than in the '80s, which makes the concept of a video-only store seem rather archaic. the ever-contemporary Gondry, however, appears to have been aiming for nostalgia; he missed.)

Many of the images are amusing, like Black sitting in the back seat of a car wearing a dress and harassing Def for "Driving Miss Daisy." ("I was in character!" he explains afterward to his miffed friend. "You didn't have to take it so personally.") And the monstrous Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from "Ghostbusters" is rendered in cutely puny fashion here - just some marshmallows crudely stuck together with sticks.

But it would have been even more amusing if Gondry had spent more time showing us the process of remaking individual films, rather than the quick-hit montages he's concocted. He runs through the knockoffs with a teasing speed and some easy laughs that make you want to see more, from "Carrie" and "King Kong" to "2001: A Space Odyssey" and, in an apparent nod to his French heritage, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

The sweded films bear the roughhewn look that has become Gondry's trademark, a mix of the childlike and the dreamlike. For "The Lion King," Jerry and Mike (with the help of a dry cleaning clerk played by Melonie Diaz) trot about in some vaguely animal-shaped pieces of cloth; for "Robocop," Jerry walks around covered in random scraps of metal. It's a funny idea - it was funny writing it just now. But that's all these are: ideas without much context, cohesion or momentum.

Unlike "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," in which Gondry achieved real poignancy about a different kind of erasing, "Be Kind Rewind" falls into the same category as his "The Science of Sleep": It's too silly, and straining too hard to be weird.

"Be Kind Rewind," a New Line Cinema release, is rated PG-13 for some sexual references. Running time: 101 minutes. Two stars out of four.