Be Kind Rewind (2008)

“I will shoot you. And I know robot karate!”

Justin’s Rating: $6.99 in late fees

Justin’s Review: Most movies are just, you know, movies. You take them one at a time, chew them around in your mouth for a bit, and decide whether it’s going to make you hurl or yummy enough to swallow and ask for seconds. But apparently some movies you can’t take on their own merit – they come stamped with the seal of the director, so that you’re watching John Carpenter’s Halloween or Stanley Kubrick’s Piece of Crap. I don’t think normal, everyday people see it like this, but the movie industry just goes bonkers over some directors to the point where it’s a serious offense in Hollywood to speak against them. Thank God for living in Detroit, I guess. This sort of thinking is just an excuse for directors to get lazy and not have to explain themselves – their critics will do that for them, lavishly, and often with sensual back massages.

I found out after seeing this that Be Kind Rewind was actually Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind, and because of that I should be holding it against a completely different standard. Yeah, I never really heard of his name either, but I guess since he’s done Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he’s become a national treasure (except he’s from France). I don’t doubt that Gondry has a great touch for visual style or a soft heart for moving stories, but his pacing is somewhat… off. It’s not anything nearly as funny as the trailer made it out to be.

Be Kind Rewind isn’t so much a comedy as it is a window on a small New Jersey community, where a screw-up attempts to bind them all together for good. The screw-up is when oddball Jerry (Jack Black) accidentally becomes “magnetized” by a massive course of electricity at a transformer station. “Magnetized”, huh? Not “burned from the inside out”? Oh, okay. So Jerry then wanders into his friend’s VHS rental store and accidentally wipes clean all of the tapes.

You may be asking yourself “VHS? In 2008? Is this a retro film?” Not really, dear readers – this is New Jersey. It’s a small community stuck where it is, with Dante and Randal a town over complaining about having to work on their day off.

Jerry and his mealy-mouthed friend Mike (Mos Def) decide the only way they can keep the shop open is to re-record the movies for those people who haven’t seen them and don’t know any better. Hence, the key invention of this movie is born: “Sweding.” A Sweded film (and this has become somewhat of a pop culture thing on the internet since this movie came out) is a poorly-reenacted cover band copy of the real film, often with innovative, cheesy special effects and props. It also tends to be shorter – in the case of Jerry and Mike, about 20 minutes per film. Yet somehow the movies become a huge success, and people start clamoring for them in small hordes. Will it be enough to save the store from demolition (oh, yeah, the store is about to be demolished, important plot point there)? Will Fats Waller come back from the dead to put things right?

The problem here is that this movie has two completely different audiences. The first are all the Gondry fawning critics, who will just praise this up and down the street until they convince themselves it’s the best film of 2008. Uh, sorry guys, you can have your delusions, but that just ain’t the case.

The second is the trailer-viewing public, who came to see an actual comedy where people “Swede” movies in a loving parody of famous movies. That second crowd is bound to be disappointed; the Sweding thing only takes up a small part of the actual movie (most of it in montages), with the bulk being a non-humorous yet quirky character study of small, run-down town life. Don’t get me wrong, by the end of the movie I kind of warmed up to what it was doing, but Mos Def and Jack Black are so low-key in their performances – a deliberate choice for the role, no doubt – that they just slip under the radar of your interest and pass on by.

I’m not saying that Gondry was under any compunction to deliver a standard Hollywood comedy, but the “comedy” in any form would’ve been a welcome addition. As it is, this seems like a tribute to a long-gone era of some sort, and I’m sorry to say that I’ve already moved on.

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