Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 7/25/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

Be Kind Rewind

Chances are, unless you’re a movie buff, you haven’t heard the name Michel Gondry. Gondry made his first big splash on the movie scene in 2004 when he directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a fantastic offbeat comedy starring Jim Carrey as a man who has his memory erased in order to rid himself of the painful memories of a failed relationship. The movie was unconventional and at times downright bizarre, but it was also a tremendous film with a great story at its core. So, I was pretty excited to check out Gondry’s first film since then, Be Kind Rewind. The movie stars Mos Def and Jack Black and the trailers showed the same charming oddball vision that made Eternal Sunshine so captivating. After actually seeing the movie, however, all I can say is that it’s a big disappointment.

The movie tells the story of Be Kind Rewind, a hole-in-the-wall video rental shop in Passaic, New Jersey owned by old-timer Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). The shop is a staple in the community, with Mr. Fletcher telling countless stories about it being the birthplace of legendary jazz musician Fats Waller. Mr. Fletcher has hired Mike (Def), a young guy the community who looks up to him greatly, to run the store from day-to-day. Everything changes, though, when the city council informs Mr. Fletcher that they will be demolishing his building and moving his store elsewhere unless he can come up with the money for necessary renovations. Mr. Fletcher leaves on a trip to discover the secrets of the big rental chains (like, say, offering DVDs instead of VHS tapes?) and leaves Mike in charge while he’s gone. Mike’s honor turns to panic when his crazy friend Jerry (Black) is magnetized by an electrical accident and unwittingly erases every tape in the store. In a panic over what to do, Mike and Jerry decide to shoot new versions of the store’s movies themselves and pass them off to customers, which becomes a surprising hit and may well save the store.

The set-up is interesting enough and the film is certainly not without its charm. Def is an underrated talent, and he plays the straight man to Black’s zaniness really well. Gondry’s offbeat vision and sense of humor gives the duo’s “Sweded” re-creations (they explain to customers that the new movies are imported from Sweden, explaining the higher cost and longer wait times) a lot of charm and a clever wit, and honestly the movie could have used more of them. Where the film falters, though, is in-between the low-budget renditions of Ghostbusters and Driving Miss Daisy. Gondry seems to be attempting an ode to small towns and old times, but the smarmy dramatic scenes seem entirely out of place in this world that only vaguely resembles reality. A heartfelt truth can come from a quasi-fictional universe (Eternal Sunshine’s world was certainly colored with artistic touches), but this film just can’t seem to figure out what world it wants to inhabit. I think Gondry’s weakness here is his writing (this is his first venture not penned by possibly insane but undeniably brilliant screenwriter Charlie Kaufman) – he presents his material as skillfully as possible, but you can’t shake the feeling that he doesn’t have much to work with. Be Kind Rewind was a great concept, but the finished product still feels like a concept, not a fully fleshed-out movie. The performances range from quality (Def) to we’ve-seen-this-before (Black and Glover), to completely forced and throwaway (Sigourney Weaver as an FBI agent). Yet, at the end of the day, the quality of the craft doesn’t matter, as the raw materials weren’t up to par in the first place. Sad to say it, but leave this one on the shelf. - * (out of four)

Be Kind Rewind is rated PG-13 for some sexual references.

1 comment:

Michael Maupin said...

I have to say that I really felt this movie was a vanity project for Gondry, who truly is a visual genius. I found the plot muddled, the acting typical (be careful Jack Black, your falling into the Will Ferrel I'm-the-same-character-in-every-movie career hole). Mos Def was the highlight of the movie for me. The more I see him in, the more I like him as an actor. But like he reviewer said, it truly is a one-star affair. And the reson I say it was a vanity piece for Gondry is because he got to employ a lot of the visual direction techniques he made revolutionary in music videos for Bjork (Bachelorette)and Lucas (Lucas with the Lid Off). Youtube them and you will see what I mean. Gondry has the Oscar, so he needs to leave the film school antics behind, just as Paul Thomas Anderson did for "There Will Be Blood," and make his own TWBB. I know I'm ready to what else Gondry is capable of.