Danny Glover puts Mos Def in charge of his ramshackle video store and when his pal Jack Black accidentally erases all the tapes (he inadvertently became magnetized while trying to sabotage a power plant), it royally pisses off the clientele. So Mos and Jack grab a camera and film their own versions of the movies and eventually create a citywide sensation. Their “Sweded” tapes bring them a certain amount of celebrity status, but when the FBI hits them with a copyright infringement fine, they rally the community together to make their own original movie.
Since this review is coming from someone who spent six years working in a video store (Video 1 RIP) and has filmed homemade remakes of his favorite films (including Death Wish, A Nightmare on Elm Street and THREE Friday the 13th movies), I’m probably more forgiving of this movie’s shortcomings than most viewers. The humor is wildly inconsistent and veers from silly (like when Black gets magnetized), to inspired (I especially liked the scene where Black and Def “camouflaged” themselves), to extremely schmaltzy (as in the Capra-esque ending). There’s also a gratuitous subplot about jazz legend Fats Waller that weighs things down a bit, but the film never failed to keep me entertained.
The best part of the movies is of course, the homemade remakes that Black and Def film. Their versions of Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, Lion King (“I will piss on your grave!”), Robocop and Driving Miss Daisy are great and reminded me of my younger days running around with a camcorder and “murdering” my brother using Heinz 57 and a rubber knife. They are so awesome that you’ll wish there were more of them. In one montage we see them do versions of King Kong (which oddly enough Black was already in), Men in Black, When We Were Kings and (best of all) 2001.
An offbeat movie like this one is made or broken by it’s performers but luckily the cast is up to the task. Black gives a solid performance and only occasionally morphs into his usual grating persona. Def is somewhat lacking in screen presence, but makes for a capable straight man to Black’s antics and Glover makes you sympathize with his character, who is an outdated relic in the rapidly changing world of video rental.
Be Kind Rewind is a mixed bag to be sure, but it’s harmless fun especially if you’re a movie buff. Any prospective filmmaker will find it hard not to be inspired by Black and Def’s enthusiasm and ingenuity. Movies about making movies can usually be hit or miss in terms of entertainment value, but director Michel (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) Gondry effectively captures not only the joy of making movies but the joy of watching them as well. Be Kind Rewind is far from a perfect movie, but like his characters, Gondry clearly loves what he’s doing and that is half the battle I suppose. At least his version of Driving Miss Daisy was better than the original.