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Be Kind Rewind

A shambling charmer
By BRETT MICHEL  |  February 20, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars
Melonie Diaz, Jack Black, Mos Def

Michel Gondry, the visual genius who made his mark directing award-winning music videos, follows up his bittersweet 2006 triumph La science des rêves|The Science of Sleep with a film that’s closer in spirit to his 2005 documentary Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, which celebrated its depressed community with a festival of music. Block Party’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood might have been the template for the semi-fictional one (many of the locals appear as extras) here in Passaic, New Jersey, the birthplace of jazz. What’s that? Jazz was spawned from Harlem? Not if old Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) is to be believed.

To hear him tell it, his video store (that’s right, VHS), Be Kind Rewind, stands on the exact location where Fats Waller was born, a notion that energizes his low-key surrogate son, Mike (Mos Def). When the building comes under threat of condemnation, Mr. Fletcher leaves Mike in charge, with one instruction: keep Jerry (Jack Black) out of the store. Jerry’s an obnoxious misfit who thinks the local power plant is microwaving his brains. It’s not –– it’s magnetizing them. When exposure to Jerry erases all the videotapes in the store, the duo scheme to “Swede” them. That is, remake them in 20-minute bites, with Mike and the increasingly solipsistic Jerry as the stars. Business booms.

This isn’t Gondry’s best work — it’s too unstructured, labored when it begs to soar. Indeed, when I saw the film last month at New Line’s screening room in LA, a few industry professionals left before it was finished. Had they remained, however, they might have been seduced by the cumulative power of the community’s efforts to band together and reinvent themselves through a magnificent creation of fiction. This joyous act that ends the film trumps the destructive gentrification that threatens from just beyond the edges of the frame, the bulldozers temporarily silenced by the transformative power of laughter, a power that validates Gondry’s shambling charmer. 101 minutes | Kendall Square

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