26 February 2008 | DonFishies
Black and Def are excellent, but the rest of the film is just disappointing
Just reading a brief synopsis got me fairly hyped for Be Kind Rewind. The film was written and directed by Michel Gondry, who directed my favourite movie in the last five years, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so it was a no-brainer that this would be a movie I would want to see. But unfortunately, the idea seemed to be a whole lot better than the final product.
Mike (Mos Def) works at an aging video rental story in New Jersey run by Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). Despite the advent of DVD, the store only carries VHS tapes, and rents them to local customers at a fee far cheaper than the usual rental store. The store is apparently a landmark, so Mr. Fletcher does not want to give into local developers looking to turn the block into a nice piece of real estate. He leaves Mike in charge for a few days, but leaves specific instructions for him to not his friend Jerry (Jack Black) into the store. He does, and after a rather amusing accident, Jerry manages to erase all of the tapes in the store. To help cover this up, Mike and Jerry begin to film their own versions of the films.
It sounds creative on paper, but Be Kind Rewind is too muddled in subplots to really take advantage of its outrageous idea. The entire landmark dispute becomes rather boring and annoying right after it is mentioned, and the frequent mention of jazz musician Fats Waller loses its sentimental and nostalgic touch far too early on in the film. It just lacks the focus of Eternal Sunshine, and lacks the daring scope of The Science of Sleep, another film by Gondry. While Sleep was not all that great either, it seems to have had a much better grip on the point of the movie than Rewind does. It mopes around far too much, and I found myself more bored than I ever thought I would be watching it. I wanted to be interested, but the film did not make for many interesting moments. It has a sense of purpose and clearly knows what it wants to accomplish, but allowing it to seems to be an issue the film can never overcome.
One of these reasons may be the lack of depth in the characters. We learn very little about Mike or Jerry, and their pasts and motivations seem to never come up. We just know the basics, and that seems to be enough. Ditto for Mr. Fletcher, the frequent customer Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) and Alma (Melonie Diaz), who seems to get thrown into the mix rather randomly half way through the film, and never seems to fully materialize as anything other than being a female in a primarily male dominated main cast. Gondry clearly has a point for these characters to be here interacting (and a couple of curious supporting characters like Irv Gooch's Wilson, who lend the film a lot of its laughs), but he does not seem to want to make them be anything more than near one-dimensional cut-outs. I do not want to make them seem as simplistic as that, but more often than not, I really found myself not seeing anything other than that.
When the film actually gets to its key drawing point, the re-filming of the VHS movies (or sweding as the film refers to it as), it does bring in a lot of that creative depth Gondry is known for. Using many different angles and stylistic devices, Gondry remakes specific scenes out of these movies with ease, and brings a lot of humour to them as well. Watching Def and Black redo Ghostbusters is absolutely hysterical, as is their redoing of Driving Miss Daisy, King Kong, We Were Kings and 2001: A Space Odyssey. But unfortunately, these scenes are really short and sweet, and many of them are never lingered on. Frequently, they are only mere seconds long before the next sweded movie scene comes in. At one point, there is just a scrolling list of movies that are being redone, but barely any are shown on screen. It is a little disappointing, but I did really like the footage that is shown.
While the film's storyline is a little winded, and the character development is a little off, the actors themselves do really well.
Def continues to impress, and helps carry this film from beginning to end. I am never really impressed with his work, but he seems to have a knack for making his characters enjoyable and very human in their design. He just seems to have that natural acting talent that every young actor tries to have, but never can truly create for themselves. Even in its most boring sections, Def delivers a great performance that is insightful and more introspective of what the film could have been had Gondry put more effort into it.
The same goes for Black, who continues to redefine himself as an actor. On one hand, he does his usual screwball schtick to its finest degree, and gets plenty of laughs for it. But on the other, he really develops his dramatic side, one that is seen only in the likes of King Kong (where his performance is not nearly as well liked as I think it is) and pretentious fare like Margot at the Wedding (which I doubt many people will ever attempt to see). It is a fine balance, and Black walks it perfectly throughout the film, and gives a solid performance for one of the film's most undefined characters. Kudos to him for really making something of it.
While the rest of the supporting cast does fairly well for themselves, none ever match the charisma or the chemistry that Def and Black share. And in a film that is disappointing already, that makes it all the more worse.