VHS is pretty much dead now, but it has one characteristic that "Be Kind Rewind" revolves around: expose it to magnetism, and it dies.
So you can probably guess what happens in Michel Gondry's fourth movie, and his first foray into all-out comedy. It has some plot holes and a rather bizarre premise, but there's a warm, funny little heart buried in the kooky antics and wild remakes of every movie from "Ghostbusters" to "Lord of the Rings."
Be Kind Rewind is an ancient video store, and supposedly the birthplace of unknown jazz legend Fats Waller. It's also due to be razed for a new block of condos -- so store owner Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) goes on a scouting trip for a week, leaving his conscientious clerk Mike (Mos Def) in charge.
Unfortunately local weirdo Jerry (Jack Black) tries to destroy a local power plant, because he believes it's controlling his brain. Instead he gets fried, and his body becomes a walking electromagnet -- which they only discover after he's wandered through the store, erasing all the old tapes. Even worse, a regular customer (Mia Farrow) wants "Ghostbusters" by that evening.
So Mike and Jerry hurriedly shoot their OWN version of the movie, with the help of Alma (Melonie Diaz) and soon they find that their "Sweded" movies have a growing fanbase, and they are town celebrities. But the demolition deadline is approaching, and Hollywood lawyers are threatening them for copyright infringement -- will the town's new devotion to these quirky "Sweding" moviemakers help them stay.
Michel Gondry's movies are always set in "real life," but with a few drops of the unreal -- memory erasure, waking surrealist dreams, that kind of thing. And even though "Be Kind Rewind" is set in a grimy, shabby New Jersey town, it has the same delightfully unreal quality -- it's a genial buddy comedy where literally anything can happen.
I'll admit, there are some moments that don't entirely work like the awkward "this town is a swamp" exchange, and a couple plot holes (where did the infringement lawyers go?). And that whole magnetized body fluids thing was just gross.
But it has plenty of physical and verbal comedy ("Iloveyou Iloveyou we'relovers kissme!"), ranging from train hijacks to a break-in at a DVD rental store. And the entertaining movie becomes sidesplitting when our heroes start shooting a ghastly no-budget "Ghostbusters" with fishing rods, tinsel, and bags of goo. Also "Robocop," "2001," "Rush Hour 2," "Driving Miss Daisy" and several others -- all with no budget, borrowed costumes, cardboard sets, and a cast of rank amateurs.
Gondry is obviously having a roaring good time lampooning Hollywood blockbusters. But he also injects some deeper currents into what could have been a one-joke movie -- there's a bittersweet subplot about the possibility of losing the store that has brought a community together. Yeah, it's supposed to tug at the heartstrings, but it really does work.
One particularly nice touch is that the movie ends -- and is punctuated by -- scenes of a very low-budget, old-looking biopic of Fats Waller. Initially it just seems like another conceit, but it turns out to be very important to the plot.
Black is a delight as the insane Jerry, brimming with manic energy -- in one scene, he encases himself in aluminum foil. Mos Def's Mike is more pleasant and low-key as the responsible boy-next-door type, and Danny Glover is outstanding as the paternal, gravel-voiced Mr. Fletcher. Diaz is also quite solid as a vague love interest/codirector/costar; and keep an eye out for Sigourney Weaver in a small cameo.
Michel Gondry's fourth full-length film is a big-hearted, mildly bittersweet little comedy, with the slightly unreal quality you expect from his films. I want the Sweded "Be Kind Rewind!"