February 28, 2008

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Be Kind Rewind (PG-13)
After a magnetized Jack Black erases all of the video tapes at a video store, store manager Mos Def tries to keep the shop going with homemade versions of Ghostbusters, RoboCop and Driving Miss Daisy in Be Kind Rewind, a nonsensical comedy that somehow manages to still be charming.

Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) is mere weeks away from losing his video shop in Passaic, N.J., to a developer’s plan for sleek, block-reviving condos. Desperate to find out what makes a video store successful, he decides to take a few days off to spy on a Blockbuster-like video shop. While he’s gone, he leaves clerk Mike (Mos Def, a.k.a. Dante Smith) in charge, giving him only one rule. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get a chance to deliver his advice until he’s on the train. He writes it out on the fogged-up window but it isn’t until Mike figures out that the words were backwards that he realizes the message is “keep Jerry out.”

Sadly, Jerry (Jack Black) proves difficult to keep out of anything. While breaking in to a power plant next to the junkyard where he lives (he thinks it’s controlling his brain and he wants to sabotage it), he is electrocuted and, as we quickly realize, he becomes magnetized. The next day, he shows up at the video store and walks the aisles, touching the videos and quickly turning the inventory into row upon row of static-filled blank tapes.

Mike panics. Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow), a friend of Mr. Fletcher’s sent to check up on Mike, shows up and wants to rent Ghostbusters, a movie she’s never seen. After trying unsuccessfully to find another copy, Mike takes Jerry’s zany advice — let’s shoot our own version of Ghostbusters, he says. With outfits made of tinfoil and lasers simulated with some artfully arranged garland, the guys head to the library and produce a considerably shorter version of the movie where, as Mike says, he’s Bill Murray and Jerry is everybody else.

Whether or not Miss Falewicz buys their movie as the real Ghostbusters or just likes their goofy performance we’re not really sure, but soon customers are clamoring for these special versions of movies — “sweded” the boys call it because, uhm, they do, don’t question it. They rope in Alma (Melonie Diaz) to play female characters and are soon churning out the hits — RoboCop, Boyz n the Hood, The Lion King. But will these new editions of videos be enough to save the store?

Why are people still using VHS? How do movie executives find out about this “pirating” so fast? What’s with the subplot involving Fats Waller? These are sensible questions that don’t so much matter to the flow of the movie. Before thismovie, writer and director Michael Gondry wrote and directed The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, movies that rely heavily on fantasy. For me, the fantasy was too precocious in The Science of Sleep but charming and wonderful in Eternal Sunshine. Be Kind Rewind falls somewhere in between. This is an urban fairy tale, a romance where friends and neighbors replace lovers. There’s a stagier, more mannered feel to the movie, the dialogue in particular, than Eternal Sunshine but this movie has a sweetness and a heart that makes it easy to forgive its flaws. For all the annoying mannerisms of Farrow, you have the natural-to-the-universe-of-the-movie performances of Black and Mos Def, both of whom seem at home with the surrealness of the story.

More than not, I liked the quirkiness and the silly heart of Be Kind Rewind, right down to its make-you-smile ending. B-

Rated PG-13 for some sexual references. Written and directed by Michael Gondry, Be Kind Rewind is an hour and 41 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by New Line Cinema.