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Overall Rating

Worth A Look35.14%
Just Average: 10.81%
Pretty Crappy: 5.41%
Sucks: 13.51%

3 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Be Kind Rewind
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by Peter Sobczynski

"How Swede It Is"
4 stars

By the standards of conventional film criticism–the kind of analysis dedicated to figuring out whether or not the movie in question “works” on some level or another–“Be Kind Rewind” is more or less a mess. After all, it features a cast of bizarre characters who say and do the most inexplicable things as though they were completely normal, a constantly shifting tone that veers from surreal silliness to heartfelt sentimentality at the drop of a hat and a central premise that is so fundamentally strange that even the most open-minded viewers may find it difficult to wrap their minds around it without scratching their heads in total befuddlement. And yet, there are plenty of movies out there that “work” on conventional levels, or at least try to do so, but I can’t think of very many in recent memory that have contained as many delightfully screw-loose moments as this decidedly off-beat future cult classic in the making–so many, in fact, that I am perfectly willing to overlook its other considerable flaws.

Set in a funky neighborhood of Passaic, New Jersey, the film stars Jack Black as self-styled radical activist Jerry and Mos Def as longtime pal Mike, who works behind the counter of the VHS-only video rental store that belongs to his uncle, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). What Jerry and Mike don’t realize is that the area is set to be eradicated in the name of progress and urban renewal for a new housing project named, inevitably, Olde Passaic Gardens, and not even Mr. Fletcher’s pleas regarding the historical significance of his building (it is said to be the birthplace of the legendary musician Fats Waller) is enough to sway the zoning board–unless he comes up with $50,000 for necessary repairs, he will lose the store and the building.. While leaving town on business for a few days, he puts Mike in charge of the store with the single caveat that Jerry is not to be allowed inside. This turns out to have been sound advice, though sadly unheeded, because through circumstances too bizarre to get into here, Jerry unwittingly becomes magnetized one night and when he walks into the store the next day, he unwittingly erases every single tape in the store. Needless to say, it is impossible to replace the tapes on such short notice and when a loyal customer (Mia Farrow), who is a close friend of Mr. Fletcher, comes in to rent a copy of “Ghostbusters” for later that night, Mike hits upon an idea that is both insane and inspired–since she has never seen the film before, he will shoot his own version of the film, lacking only the original’s cast, budget, special effects and running time, with the help of Jerry and a home-video camera and she will hopefully never know the difference.

Amazingly, the video not only passes muster but becomes such a local sensation that Jerry and Mike find themselves taking orders from everyone in the neighborhood to have their favorite films “Sweded,” as they call it–we see them produce custom-made videos that boil down films as varied as “Robocop,” “The Lion King,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “When We Were Kings” to their essential moments that are recreated by fairly ingenious means–and before long, they have become celebrities of a sort and have single-handedly raised just about enough money to save the store on their own. Alas, the good times must come to an end and through a development that I will leave for you to discover, their Sweding days are over and the building is faced with imminent destruction. After the requisite period of gloom and doom, the guys hit upon a idea that will both tap into the community spirit that they engendered through their ad-hoc videos and possibly raise enough money to save the neighborhood–they will produce an original film with all of their neighbors pitching in to help.

If you want to prick holes in “Be Kind Rewind,” I assure you that doing so is easy enough because the basic premise that the entire thing is based is totally absurd whether you want to look at it literally or metaphorically. For starters, there is the fact that the very idea of a current-day video store that is completely dedicated to VHS (not counting certain speciality outlets) is so completely anachronistic that you will find yourself constantly wondering why writer-director Michel Gondry didn’t just backdate the story about ten years or so and nip the question in the bud altogether–the refusal to do so is even more baffling when you consider that virtually all the films that we see being Sweded, with the exception of “Rush Hour 2,” were made before 1998 and still could have been utilized. There is the fact that it is equally impossible to believe that the locals would immediately spark to their decidedly low-tech creations that look more like arcane art-school projects or Michel Gondry music videos than the works they are meant to approximate. There is the fact that there is precious little conflict to be had here–the plot to revamp the neighborhood never feels like that much of a threat and when the bad guys come to shut down the sweding once and for all, their representative (Big-Star-Cameo Alert!) is actually pretty much in the right. There is the fact that the screenplay seems to consider DVD a symbol of everything that is evil and wrong with the film industry when it has, of course, been a boon to film lovers for the way that it has made countless titles available to consumers in their proper aspect ratios and with supplemental materials that help put them into their proper social and cultural context. Finally, there is the inescapable fact that while Gondry, as he demonstrated previously with “The Science of Sleep,” knows how to come up with any number of extraordinary visual flourishes, he has no idea of how to create an engaging story with which to utilize them–more so than perhaps any other filmmaker working today, it is evident that he really needs a strong screenplay from a disciplined writer as a basis for his quirkiness as he had when he collaborated with Charlie Kaufman on the instant classic “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

These are significant flaws, to be sure, but as “Be Kind Rewind” progressed, I found myself more or less ignoring them because I was too busy being charmed by the film’s other aspects. Visually, the film is quite extraordinary–of course the faux-movies are filled with ingenious tricks but the cinematography by ace lenser Ellen Kuras extends the magic beyond those clips to such a degree that it makes the likes of Passaic seem like the most appealingly funky urban area imaginable. I liked the way that Gondry was able to convincingly invoke a genuine sense of community spirit as the locals find themselves joining together for a common purpose–this appears to be a welcome holdover from Gondry’s work as the director of “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.” I liked the ways in which Gondry slipped in gentle-but-knowing jabs at the blandness and soullessness of contemporary consumer culture–anyone who has spent the better part of a Friday night in a video store trying desperately to find something off the beaten path will no doubt get a kick out of the moment when Mr. Fletcher slips into a West Coast Video to take notes on how to improve his store and notes such “innovations” as “Less choice–more copies of the same movie!” I liked the easygoing charm that Jack Black and Mos Def brought to their roles–Black’s manic bluster dovetails surprisingly well with Def’s laid-back manner–and newcomer Melonie Diaz is a real charmer as a local girl who becomes involved in the sweding project when the guys realize that they will eventually need at least one actress to handle some of the female roles.

Most of all, I liked the various ways in which Gondry utilized his essentially absurdist conceit as a way of exploring how people relate in deeply personal ways to the power of cinema by using the sweding process as a way of accentuating what they liked about a particular title and reworking what they didn’t in a 21st-century-take on the old Godard quote about how the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie. In one of the most affecting scenes in the entire film, a commission to recreate “Driving Miss Daisy” runs aground when the African-American Mike tries to play along with its retrograde attitudes until he finally gives up and admits that he always found the film condescending. At other times, however, their takes are decidedly lighter and while many of them are quite funny (I especially enjoyed seeing the ways in which they recreate the centrifuge sequence from “2001" and devise a method for creating the distinctively jerky look of a silent film, which would normally run at 30 frames per second, projected at the slightly slower 24 frames per second utilized by sound projectors) what shines through long after the initial amazement and amusement has worn off is the way that Gondry has managed to suggest the feeling of loving a movie so much that it helps to inspire new creative impulses in the minds of viewers. I was reminded of the good old days when my brother and I would take our “Star Wars” toys and use them to make up new adventures instead of simply recreating the events that we had already seen played out on the big screen–speaking quite frankly, those ersatz adventures were far more compelling or interesting to me than any of the post-“Empire” sequels. Whatever his flaws as a narrative filmmaker, Michel Gondry understands this to a T and “Be Kind Rewind” serves as a joyful celebration of this particular impulse.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16849&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/22/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/29/19 Anne worth it! Memorable. 4 stars
9/19/12 roscoe so few laughs because they hardly spoofed any movies. needed a lot more of that 3 stars
4/09/10 art WHO CARES ABOUT NEW JERSEY! 1 stars
1/30/10 Jeff Wilder Fun. But fades 10 minutes after you watch it. 3 stars
2/02/09 MP Bartley Sweet and whimsical, but very slight. 3 stars
8/11/08 Jon G An insult to filmmakers - sweded versions are better? 1 stars
8/11/08 cpbjr quite enjoyed. fun characters, but suspend all disbelief 4 stars
7/27/08 g. boring 1 stars
7/17/08 mike absolutely horrible. who cares about fats waller and their movies looked so crappy 1 stars
6/21/08 mark madsen was ok but if I didnt see it I wouldn't mind. 2 stars
4/22/08 Jodi Really fun movie with a nice message. I thought Mos Def was really good. 4 stars
3/27/08 SamanthaPayntr the sweded movie sequenced were sooooo funny, i loved it! 4 stars
3/25/08 sweetgrrl1972 Started of really really slow, but by the end it was so touching that I was in tears. 4 stars
3/16/08 Zachary I thought this was a great movie! Very funny! And I was surprised at how well Mos Def did. 4 stars
3/09/08 Bubba O'Reilly Should have a big red label on it; WARNING, JACK BLACK!! 2 stars
3/07/08 Quigley Superb idea for a movie but Gondry's direction was too messy. Mos Def was quite annoying 3 stars
3/02/08 Nicholas Plowman Fantastic. Gondry is a genius. A little shaky in the beginning but worth it! 4 stars
2/28/08 Sam F. Totally awesome! I could see this movie again and again. 5 stars
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  22-Feb-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Jun-2008



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