Sunday, October 12, 2008

Be Kind, Rewind

"Be Kind, Rewind" is the name of the video store in Passaic, NJ, where this eponymously named 2008 film is set. The store specializes in tapes, not DVDs, and business is not booming. When the owner goes to attend an anniversary commemoration of the death of his idol Fats Waller, he leaves his assistant Mike (Mos Def) in charge. A whacked out mechanic named Jerry (Jack Black) who lives in a trailer nearby convinces Mike to help him sabotage the local power plant. When their plot goes awry, Jerry is magnetized, and the next time he walks into the video store, his magnetism erases all the tapes. In a panic, and with customers demanding to rent tapes, Jerry and Mike decide to make and rent their own versions of the erased films. Their films, which they refer to as "sweded" versions of the originals, become a hit with the store's clientele.

This highly improbable plot is the center of the highly improbable comedy, which is made in as loose and casual and even careless way as the sweded films of Jerry and Mike. It doesn't try to be realistic or adhere to rules of logic—it simply takes the idea and runs with it. It's like an extended skit in a high school play. Everyone in the film is eccentric. The store owner, played by Danny Glover, who looks as if he is playing the same character he played in The Royal Tenenbaums, has convinced Mike (whom he apparently raised) that the store is located in the birthplace of Fats Waller. He never tells Mike the truth because he doesn't want to disappoint him. Jerry is a conspiracy-paranoiac who sleeps in an aluminum foil helmet to avoid radiation from the nearby power plant. Customers who patronize the video store haven't yet switched over to DVDs—they're clinging to the obsolescent format of the past. Developers want to raze the decrepit building where the video store is located and build condos in its place. Mia Farrow appears in the film as a woman who can't tell the difference between the real film Ghostbusters and the version that Mike and Jerry make on their own and rent to her. Everything and everyone in the film is threatened with obsolescence.

Be Kind Rewind pays homage to the American romance with films, and with the American obsession with celebrity and fame. It shows characters trying to rise above the quiet and desperate anonymity of their lives. In their final sweded film, the only one they make up on their own, Mike and Jerry produce a film biography of Fats Waller. They enlist all the customers who patronize the store as actors and crew.

In the end, Be Kind Rewind can't quite pull off the trick that it plays. But it's an entertaining and charming effort.

Sigourney Weaver appears in a bit role as a Hollywood lawyer who accuses Mike and Jerry of copyright infringement. She is, of course, one of the stars of the Ghostbusters films.

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