Friday, February 22, 2008

Rampant creativity in "Be Kind Rewind"

Summary: Michel Gondry ("The Science of Sleep") wants to rescue the playfulness of movies from megabuck seriousness by upholding the idea that good-spirited silliness is worth defending. "Be Kind Rewind" travels a bumpy road, but it allows Gondry to reach his destination.

There's much about Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind" that doesn't compute. In an era of the DVD, the story takes place in a store that specializes in videos that rent for $1 per day. Moreover, a movie that wants to champion naivete and insouciance takes place in the dilapidated recesses of Passaic, New Jersey. If none of that was enough, "Be Kind" features some of the most enjoyably lame movie parodies we've seen in some time. Bolstered by Gondry's commitment to hand-made creativity, these mini-movies shriek against the special-effects driven world of Hollywood where action and comedy are kings and where whimsy tends to be trampled under the heavy, "RoboCop" feet.

"Be Kind" takes place mostly in a video shop owned by a tired but good-hearted businessman (Danny Glover). The town wants to condemn the property and drive the Be Kind Rewind Video and Thrift Shop into the projects. The situation becomes worse when two bumblers intervene. The no-account Jerry (Jack Black) manages to erase every tape in the store, much to the dismay of Mike (Mos Def), who actually works in the store.

Using an antiquated video camera, the young men decide to make their own versions of the store's stock. They call the process "sweding," and set out to imitate "Ghostbusters," "Rush Hour 2," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Boyz N The Hood," and (most hilariously) "The Lion King."

Because "Be Kind" involves unabashed fantasy, the movie asks us to believe that these bizarre, little videos become a popular phenomenon with the residents of Passaic. Gondry's approach harkens back to an older era of Hollywood formula when eager kids put on plays in barns to save beloved community institutions.

In their drive to accumulate enough profits to keep the video store afloat, Black and Def are joined by a vibrant Melanie Diaz, who assists in the moviemaking process. Mia Farrow signs on as a dippy neighborhood woman, and Sigourney Weaver shows up to look imperious as a copyright attorney who threatens to slow the amateur filmmakers' roll.

"Be Kind Rewind" is not a movie that everyone will enjoy, and it's not even a perfect example of the kind of happy fable that Gondry has tried to make. Black, for example, can seem miscast and overly manic; he's working way too hard even for someone who's playing a whack-job character, and Def's one-note performance could have used some variation.

But I found something appealing in the movie's mixture of preposterous artifice and community solidarity. It made me smile.

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