Be Kind Rewind

dir: Michel Gondry
[img_assist|nid=4|title=A less boring version of 2001: A Space Odyssey|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=270]
Being able to enjoy a flick like this is dependent upon a few variables. A high tolerance threshold for enduring Jack Black helps. Being able to put up with yet another variation on the ‘stick up for the little guy against the heartless government/corporations’ plotline helps.

Being able to appreciate the artschool, ramshackle aesthetic / messiness and the idea that an entire community in New Jersey could be delighted by and pay good money to see short films based on famous movies starring Jack Black and Mos Def, in lieu of watching actual movies, would also be paramount.

Also, where I write ‘artschool’, what I really mean is ‘artfag’. Such a term is not exactly dripping with political correctness and sensitivity, so I’m glad I never used it in the body of this review.

Phew! Dodged a bullet on that one, eh?

In varying degrees and with varying quantities, I guess I do possess or at least entertain some of the variables previously mentioned, because I didn’t hate Be Kind Rewind, despite feeling as if I should have. Sure, it’s pretty shaggy, creaky and cheesy, but I still enjoyed the shit out of it.

Despite Jack Black, certainly not because of Jack Black. When Jack Black played a significant role way back in the day in High Fidelity, audiences were delighted. Ecstatic in fact. He was just so entertaining as the manic and acerbic Barry, the scourge of vinyl collectors everywhere.

Little did we know that Black would essentially be playing exactly the same character for evermore. It’s the same, standard irritating doofus persona on display here in Be Kind Rewind, but it kind of synchs with the material.

I guess.

His partner in crime here is rapper and occasional actor Mos Def, as Mike, who grounds the film and helps make it something more meaningful. There’s a very good reason why Mike is the main character instead of Jerry (Black’s character).

Mike helps run Be Kind Rewind for his adoptive father Mr Fletcher (Danny Glover). It is a video cassette rental place on a street corner in Passaic, New Jersey. Jerry, his best friend, is something of a paranoid idiot, and so inadvertently erases all the video tapes in the store after his attempts to sabotage an electrical substation backfire.

Mr Fletcher, trapped as he is in a nostalgic time warp where he does nothing but obsess over musician Fats Waller, is in danger of losing his beloved store through the process of gentrification. The local council sees his store as a slummy impediment to their recreation of the suburb as a shiny, wholesome place known as Olde Passaic.

Out of desperation, these two holy idiots Jerry and Mike, with more and more help from the local community, make their own versions of the famous films people want to rent, recording them straight onto the original tapes and renting them out at a premium.

Instead of being ropeable, and hefting torches and pitchforks aloft, the customers go wild for these so-called ‘sweded’ versions of the classics, lining up around the block to rent them. No one from the start confuses these versions with the real thing: they actually prefer them to the real thing.

Trust me, I know how unlikely it all sounds. I was telling myself just how unbelievable the whole thing was even as I was smiling at the screen.

They start with Ghostbusters, and work their way through all of the greats: Boyz in the Hood, Driving Miss Daisy, Men in Black, When We Were Kings, Robocop and many many more.

Okay, so it sounds utterly ridiculous, but the thing is, some of these moments depicting how they replicate well known scenes is inspired. Gondry’s brilliance, if he possesses any, is that he is the kind of guy who can come up with these incredible ways to create a scene that look like they were put together by a class full of primary school kids with a budget of five or so dollars.

Want to replicate the scene where the car goes upside-down in Men In Black as they blaze through a tunnel full of cars? Why not paste toy cars to the surface of a barrel and spin the barrel with the camera upside down. Want to fill a street with cars from the 1930s but don’t have the budget to get the cars? Why not make 2-dimensional cutouts and have people carry them around as if they’re being driven, or attach them to contemporary cars? Want to make footage look ancient and old worldy? Spin a fan and attach strings to the front of the camera.

That’s why I refer to the artfag / papier mache kind of aesthetic that buoys the film, supports it both visually and conceptually, and that ultimately won me over despite my objections. Even if I can’t really believe the story as it plays out, that I wanted to because I enjoyed it so much was enough for me.

Inevitably the plot comes down to the evil, cruel government forcing Mr Fletcher to close down unless… and the evil, cruel film companies asserting their rights to their copyrights with cruel and unusual punishments unless… resulting in the kind of “let’s put on a show to rally the community together to make the necessary amount of money and save Be Kind Rewind, Al’s Diner, Miracles” or whatever the place is called which is as ancient and hoary a plot cliché as are the episodes of Little Rascals, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family or Breakdance 2: Electric Boogaloo that it can be found in.

I didn’t care. I don’t buy for a second that the community, in Passaic or anywhere else for that matter could go berserk for the kinds of amateurish recreations of famous movies that already litter the internet and populate sites like YouTube ad infinitum. But it hardly matters. There is something to be said for a movie that essentially tells its audience that it’s significantly more entertaining and enjoyable to go out there and make your own movies instead of watching the formulaic crap Hollywood pumps out daily by the gallon.

It also, in the pinnacle of unbelievability, contends that general movie audiences don’t want formulaic crap, and prefer ‘real’ stories with ‘real’ people in them, and that their hunger for such flicks leaves them amenable to watching unpolished but enjoyable stuff over the slick, big budget monstrosities that infest the local multiplexes and Blockbursters.

Yeah, hoorah for the little guy, and for that open-minded, adventurous audience.

Although I wonder what Gondry, the company that put up the cash to finance and distribute this film, and the actors involved would say about some other rapscallions and upstarts making a ‘sweded’ version of Be Kind Rewind for fun and profit.

Sure it’s silly and unbelievable, and is more of a fantasy than all of the Lord of the Rings films combined. And sure Jack Black is Jack Black. But the movie works, for what it is, and it does tap into a feeling for community spirit that is a message heard all too infrequently these days, where the triumph of the individual at the expense of the people around them seems to be the goal of every second flick that comes out.

7 sweded versions of Titanic that would have to have been better than the original out of 10

“Listen to me. I need to you say the line. I need you to say “I will piss on the bones of your ancestors”” – Be Kind Rewind.