Thursday, February 28, 2008

I'll Take Sweded

Be Kind Rewind (d. Michel Gondry)

We think we're all so sophistimacated these days. We look at movies from eras gone by and scoff about seeing the strings and spotting the rear projection and say, "How could ANYbody be fooled by that?" But is it really a sign of sophistimacation to demand that movies spoon-feed images to you that look "real?" And what exactly are we talking about here? Just what does a "real" Robo-Cop look like?

The best bits of Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind ponder questions like that. When Jack Black approaches the camera wearing scrap bits from a junkyard and claims to be Robo-Cop, or hangs off the monkey bars and pretends he's Jackie Chan from Rush Hour 2, is he actually any less convincing than the ridiculous real thing?

Okay. Maybe a little.

Set in a video store that appears to exist in the current day, but practices its business as if it was 30 years ago (a prominent poster in the store advertises the film Blast from the Past), Be Kind Rewind concerns Mike (Mos Def), an employee, and his friend Jerry (the afore-mentioned Black) who hangs out in the store. Through some bizarre plot conniptions, Jerry becomes magnetized and inadvertently erases all the store's tapes (yes tapes; one half expects to discover that they're all Beta). When customers start demanding 25-year-old movies -- as customers are wont to do -- Jerry and Mike begin creating homemade versions of classic blockbusters. Their versions become popular in the neighborhood, in large measure because they feature people from the neighborhood. A cottage industry is born.

Gondry is a director with a great deal of visual panache and he clearly revels in his favorite low-tech movie magic. One sequence shows the boys rapidly jumping between scenes of everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to King Kong (Jack Black gets to be Kong this time) to -- of all things -- The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Gondry's Frenchness showing through, I suppose.

Mos Def gives a nice, easy-going performance here, probably a little too low-key for his own good, but just right for the character. Jack Black, on the other hand, delivers yet another Jack Black performance. It's about time for him to find some variations on his slacker dude schtick.

In support, Melonie Diaz becomes the all-purpose leading lady after Jerry refuses to kiss a bewigged local man. "Amateur," the guy sniffs as he shuffles off the set. Danny Glover plays the video-store proprietor and Mia Farrow is his most loyal customer. All are fine, though none stand out.

The attraction here is supposed to be the DIY films that Mike and Jerry cobble together on the cheap, but the sad fact is, once you get the joke, the film doesn't have anything else to offer. And the "sweded" films (Jerry's garbled term for the remakes) are a mixed bag, at best.

Gondry is a terribly interesting filmmaker who already has one masterpiece under his belt (The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and one strange rough gem (Human Nature), so Rewind is always watchable, though never truly compelling.

In the end, there's a sweet coda where the boys put their newfound talent and experience into an original creation and the celebration of handmade, simple, local entertainment is genuinely touching. But trivial. Or maybe I'm just too doggoned sophistimacated to appreciate it.

2 stars

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