BE KIND REWIND written and directed by Michel Gondry, with Jack Black, Danny Glover and Mos Def. An Alliance Atlantis release. 100 minutes. Opens Friday (February 22). Rating: NN
Everyone sees the same movie. and everyone takes a different memory away from the experience. Be Kind Rewind is about what happens when you try to recreate the memory.
Michel Gondry’s latest idiosyncratic fantasia finds dweeby pals Mos Def and Jack Black forced to recreate such VHS mainstays as Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2 and RoboCop after a magnetic incident wipes the entire rental stock of a struggling New Jersey video shop. Owner Danny Glover, in the meantime, is off attending a memorial for his beloved Fats Waller.
See, the business was already struggling, and now crazy customer Mia Farrow is threatening to expose the whole catastrophe if the guys don’t put a copy of Ghostbusters in her hands by closing time. Since Farrow’s never seen the movie, the solution is obvious: Def grabs Black and a camcorder and states their mission: “I’m Bill Murray. You’re everybody else.”
Oh, I know, it’s a bit much. But so long as the wheels keep spinning, it works. As the half-competent buddies craft a 20-minute version of the movie, complete with an improvised day-for-night shoot, homemade particle accelerators and inspired “visual effects,” Gondry’s movie opens up an entire universe of textual possibility.
In that sequence, Be Kind Rewind works as sharp, self-reflexive comedy, as a meditation on the nature of art and the ownership of memory, and as a touching reminder that we can never see a movie for the first time twice. It’s clever and resonant and very, very funny.
For about half an hour, the film clicks along in giddy perfection, as Def and Black scurry from one remake to the next, paying off in a brilliant reconstruction-deconstruction of that paragon of racially aware drama, Driving Miss Daisy. (The only thing funnier than the look on Def’s face when he realizes he’s being asked to remake it is the way he tries to get out of it.)
But logic keeps getting in the way; crazy or not, wouldn’t Farrow have had the opportunity to see that movie sometime in the last 19 years?
You can push that aside for a while, while Black and Def are goofing around with their “sweded” versions of movies from the 80s and 90s. But you also find yourself wondering why Gondry chose to set this movie in the present day, in the age of DVDs and YouTube, asking us to believe that everyone in this crumbling neighbourhood still watches movies on VHS.
Obviously, the magnetic-erasure gimmick only works with videotape – but in that case, why not roll it back to 1998? All the movie references would still be essentially the same; with the exception of Rush Hour 2, Gondry’s characters don’t appear to be interested in anything more recent than The Lion King.
Gondry’s love of complex visuals made him the perfect choice to direct Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind; his inventive transitions and refracted sets are an ideal complement to Kaufman’s swooning romanticism. But when Gondry writes his own material, he can’t distinguish the adorable notions from the creepy ones.
In The Science of Sleep, the director’s whimsy constantly threatens to cross the line into psychosis. Remember how cute Gondry thought it was when Gael García Bernal broke into Charlotte Gainsbourg’s apartment, stole her little stuffed horse, took it apart and rebuilt it into a totally awesome work of articulated art? And how everyone in the theater shifted uncomfortably in their seats, wondering if García Bernal would be coming back to take Gainsbourg apart next?
And as much as he’d like us to pretend Be Kind Rewind isn’t riddled with structural flaws, logical inconsistencies and random affectations – remember that Fats Waller memorial – well, we can only watch for so long before we find ourselves wondering what the hell he expects us to see.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but writing for NOW is a job I never wanted.
John Harkness was a good friend of mine; we lived about four blocks from each other for around 10 years and sort of fell into each other’s orbit.
He always had a cracker for my dog when he saw her on the street.
I spoke at his funeral. I’m much happier thinking about the first thing than the second.
I’m not trying to trade on a legacy and I’m not playing at false humility when I say that John was probably the best film writer this country has ever produced, and I would be a fool to presume I can replace him – or Cameron Bailey, whose recent departure from these pages marks the end of an era in itself.
I can only bring my own game, and beg your indulgence as we get to know each other.