You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Be Kind Rewind

It's a quick trip from whimsy to silliness in "Be Kind Rewind," a notably ephemeral work by Michel Gondry.

Jerry - Jack Black Mike - Mos Def Mr. Fletcher - Danny Glover Miss Falewicz - Mia Farrow Alma - Melonie Diaz Craig - Chandler Parker Wilson - Irv Gooch Manny - Arjay Smith Kid 1 - Marcus Carl Franklin Kid 2 - Blake Hightower Kid 3 - Amir Ali Said Ms. Lawson - Sigourney Weaver

It’s a quick trip from whimsy to silliness in “Be Kind Rewind,” a notably ephemeral work by Michel Gondry, whose flights of fancy can’t overcome the egregious illogic of the premise. A few geeks and VHS cultists may cotton to the spectacle of two videostore clerks compensating for the accidental erasure of commercial tapes by shooting their own versions of “Ghostbusters,” “Rush Hour 2” and “Driving Miss Daisy,” but inspiration is as meager as the antics of Jack Black and Mos Def are lame. Fact that, after its fleeting theatrical runs, this New Line release will rapidly move to its natural home on DVD — but emphatically not on VHS — ironically underscores the film’s screwy cultural and technological disjunctures.

After partnering with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman on his first two features, “Human Nature” and the borderline sublime “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (which had to do with erasure of a slightly different kind), Gondry penned his own scripts for “The Science of Sleep” and this one. Left to his own devices without a strong collaborative scribe, Gondry has a tendency toward frivolous quirks and contrived farce that is not encouraging.

One can feel unkindly toward “Be Kind Rewind” on either a literal-minded or an impressionistic basis. Taken at all realistically, the yarn’s very foundations are preposterously corny.

Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) maintains a video-only rental shop in run-down Passaic, N.J., in a building he claims was once home to jazz great Fats Waller. With the place condemned for redevelopment, vacation-bound Fletcher leaves the store in the hands of clerk Mike (Def), hoping he can revive business and keep the dingy place open.

The neighborhood wild card is Jerry (Black), an unshushable misfit who becomes electrified and magnetized by the local power plant and, in short order, begins unwittingly erasing the store’s videos. Rather than finding substitute copies or taping them off DVDs from the big competitor down the street, the buddies procure a large video camera and shoot their own highly abbreviated versions and pass these on to customers, at least one of whom, lonely sparrow Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow), doesn’t know the difference.

Gondry places the action emphatically in the present, when the mere existence of a vid-only store (unlike, for instance, a vinyl LP specialist) is a total anachronism; moving back the time frame 15 or 20 years would have removed a big credibility issue and sacrificed nothing except the absurdist dimension.

Worse, however, is that the videos (inexplicably called “sweded” films) Mike and Jerry make would seem to be totally terrible. Gondry concentrates on the vids’ frantic production — with makeshift costumes and special effects for the likes of “RoboCop,” “2001” and “King Kong,” hopeless stunts for “Rush Hour 2” and preschool-level docu and animation facsimiles for “When We Were Kings” and “The Lion King,” respectively — and shows almost nothing of the final results (which are, however, offered for viewer delectation online). Film’s Preston Sturges-like, young-doofuses-make-good resolution pivots on the proposition that the homemovies become popular with local residents, but there’s no internal evidence that this could be in any sense true. To the contrary.

But enough small-minded literalism; Gondry would seem to have intended “Be Kind Rewind” more as a generous, sweet-tempered comic fable. But the souffle never rises, for reasons that begin with the fact that the disheveled Jerry seems like a certifiable lunatic in immediate need of extended treatment. With the exception of a couple of nice pantomimic moves immediately after having been zapped, Black overdoes it awfully here in an overwhelmingly unamusing performance. No matter what he did, Def couldn’t help but seem low-key by contrast, but, in any event, his mild-mannered turn makes a soft impact. Sigourney Weaver turns up briefly as a corporate lawyer who confronts the boys with some legitimate copyright infringement issues.

Given the setup’s spoof potential, “Be Kind Rewind” might have cut it as a sophomoric student project or a goof-off comedy. But sticking it in something resembling the real world and pinning idealistic social significance to the desperate shenanigans of its screw-loose protags knocks it down for the count almost before it begins.

Production values are a few notches higher than those of the boys’ own productions, and notably so in the musical department, especially when Fats Waller chimes in.

Popular on Variety

Be Kind Rewind

Production: A New Line Cinema release presented in association with Partizan Films of a Partizan Films production. Produced by Michel Gondry, Julie Fong, Georges Bermann. Executive producers, Toby Emmerich, Guy Stodel. Co-producer, Ann Ruark. Directed, written by Michel Gondry.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Ellen Kuras; editor, Jeff Buchanan; music, Jean-Michel Bernard; music supervisor, Linda Cohen; production designer, Dan Leigh; art director, James Donahue; set decorator, Ron von Blomberg; costume designers, Rahel Afiley, Kishu Chand; sound (SDDS/Dolby Digital/DTS), Pawel Wdowczak; supervising sound editor, Paul Hsu; re-recording mixers, Reilly Steele, Hsu; visual effects supervisor, Fabrice Lagayette; visual effects, BUF; stunt coordinator, Stephen Pope; associate producer, Raffi Adlan; assistant director, Michael Hausman; casting, Jeanne McCarthy. Reviewed at New Line screening room, Los Angeles, Jan. 3, 2008. (In Sundance Film Festival ---Premieres.) MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 101 MIN.

Cast: Jerry - Jack Black Mike - Mos Def Mr. Fletcher - Danny Glover Miss Falewicz - Mia Farrow Alma - Melonie Diaz Craig - Chandler Parker Wilson - Irv Gooch Manny - Arjay Smith Kid 1 - Marcus Carl Franklin Kid 2 - Blake Hightower Kid 3 - Amir Ali Said Ms. Lawson - Sigourney Weaver

More Scene

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for best actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

  • Hailee Steinfeld Dickinson Premiere

    Hailee Steinfeld, Jane Krakowski on What Modern Women Can Learn From Emily Dickinson

    Emily Dickinson lived in the 1800s, but if you ask the team behind Apple TV Plus’ upcoming series, “Dickinson,” her story is more current than ever. Hailee Steinfeld stars in the the modern-day retelling of the poet’s young life. The actress — who makes her first full-time foray into television with the role and also [...]

  • Don Cheadle

    ACLU Bill of Rights Gala to Honor Don Cheadle, Feature Appearances by Selena Gomez, Regina Hall

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California will honor “Avengers: Endgame” and “Black Monday” star Don Cheadle at the organization’s annual Bill of Rights dinner on Nov. 17 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Cheadle will be recognized for his activist work as an advocate for racial and gender equality, immigration reform, reproductive and LGBTQ [...]

  • Helen Mirren attends the LA Premiere

    Why Helen Mirren Considers Catherine the Great to Be 'Superhuman'

    It’s no secret that Dame Helen Mirren has a knack for nailing regal roles. Following her Oscar-winning on-screen reign as Queen Elizabeth II back in 2006, the thespian brings yet another powerful ruler to life in HBO’s limited mini-series “Catherine the Great.” Just as she does on the small screen as Russian Empress Catherine II, [...]

  • Taika Waititi Jojo Rabbit Premiere

    Why Director Taika Waititi Decided to Play Adolf Hitler in 'Jojo Rabbit'

    “Fox Searchlight blackmailed me into doing it,” Taika Waititi told Variety of playing Adolf Hilter in “Jojo Rabbit” at the film’s premiere at American Legion Post 43 on Tuesday night in Hollywood. Staying mum when asked which other actors had been on his wish list to play the role, Waititi explained why he eventually decided [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content