Be Kind Rewind (PG-13)
Chapel Hills 15, Tinseltown
If you're reading this paper, you probably feel "local and independent" still means something in an era of corporate homogeneity. You may be sitting in your favorite non-chain coffee joint now, listening to what remains of community radio, lamenting the disappearance of a favorite independent retailer. You are our people, and we salute you.
You are also the people to whom Michel Gondry seems to be pitching Be Kind Rewind. His loopy comedy fundamentally celebrates local flavor. Unfortunately, along the way, Gondry's tribute to the D.I.Y. spirit gets sidetracked, and the meandering shenanigans of two nobodies from nowhere aren't quite as appealing coming from two famous personalities working in a Time Warner-released movie.
The two nobodies in question are Mike (Mos Def) and Jerry (Jack Black); the nowhere is a low-rent district of Passaic, N.J. Mike works at the Be Kind Rewind video store, where the business plan has them offering VHS tapes in a DVD world. Marked for demolition as part of a neighborhood renewal plan, the store stumbles upon a way to stand out from the competition after Jerry's exposure to high voltage causes him to de-magnetize and erase every tape in the store. With their home-video camera, they begin re-recording the missing movies, creating quickie versions of Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, Driving Miss Daisy and more.
It's hard not to get sucked into the oddball charm of the micro-budget knockoffs. Mike and Jerry wrap themselves in foil and improvise special-effects shots; they recruit a worker at a nearby laundromat (Melonie Diaz) to play ingnue roles.
Faced with the prospect that external politics could change their community forever, the residents rally around the notion that two ordinary guys could turn themselves into celebrities. There's even a mini-cautionary tale as the growing demand for additional titles threatens to turn their little outfit into the kind of churn-'em-out machine they're fighting.
Gondry seems to think the affection shown to Mike and Jerry's ragged efforts should carry over to his own ragged effort. As in The Science of Sleep, Gondry lets his ideas sort of fall where they will and doesn't seem particularly concerned with focusing his actors' performances. Mos Def perhaps convinced that playing opposite Jack Black means disappearing becomes too passive while Black dials up his wild-eyebrowed act. And the in-joke of dropping Sigourney Weaver into the movie for a cameo feels exactly like the kind of blockbuster crutch the story is mocking.
It all builds to Mike and Jerry's epic project, as they move away from remakes to create their own film. But the fun of watching them work with cardboard props and limited talent begins to fade once they're working with "original" material.
Though there is an undeniable appeal to the idea of ordinary folk joining forces to create something distinctive, you've still got to watch Be Kind Rewind to absorb that message, and its unpolished qualities aren't quite so charming.
Celebrating the independent spirit doesn't mean the desire for quality suddenly disappears. Gondry rewinds to a time before corporate domination, while failing to realize that "corporate" and "professional" are not necessarily synonyms.