Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Be Kind Rewind" Short on Laughs

** out of ****

"Be Kind Rewind" is one of those movies that would make a stellar short film, but stretch it to feature length and you're looking for the fast-forward button. The movie's simple idea is to take popular films and parody them on a shoe-string budget with YouTube quality. This is the concept for this relatively absurd film.

"Be Kind Rewind" has a lot of heart, but never delivers on the laughs. Set in Passaic, New Jersey, the film starts off strong. The opening scene focuses on a dumpy, corner brick-and-mortar movie rental store called Be Kind, Rewind. In this store you won't find a DVD anywhere, only VHS, and yes, this is set in present day.

The store owner is Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), who leaves Mike (Mos Def), the only other employee, in charge of the store while he scouts out local competition. Mike is odd and shy, with a strong sense of morality that sometimes gets twisted by Jerry (Jack Black), his goofy friend who works in a junk yard.

Jerry hits the play button on this slow moving plot when he destroys a local generator claiming it was controlling his mind, sending magnetic waves through his body. Next morning when Jerry enters the store, he inadvertently magnetizes all the tapes, rendering them blank. In fear of upsetting Mr. Fletcher, and the survival of the store, Mike hatches an idea. Jerry and Mike remake short versions of all the films. In come the parodies.

"Be Kind Rewind" relies on its laughs to come from the parodies that rarely generate a chuckle. "Rewind's" biggest belly-busters are from the natural moments, but they aren't enough to carry the film. The parody highlights range from "Driving Miss Daisy," "Rush Hour 2," "The Lion King," "Ghostbusters" and "Boyz N the Hood" -- anything is fair game.

The director and writer is the Oscar-winning visionary Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "The Science of Sleep"). A Frenchman, Gondry shows his love for American cinema in his most mainstream film yet. Gondry shows his troubled writing skills with poor pacing, but manages to stir up natural, down-to-earth dialogue even for such a quirky film.

Jack Black ("King Kong," "Nacho Libre") again can't contain himself, but is more relaxed than in his past comedic outings. Black is the perfect fit for a character like Jerry who is obnoxious and unaware of his surroundings. Mia Farrow makes another trip back to the big screen as Miss Falewicz, a friend of Mr. Fletcher who keeps an eye on naive Mike. Melonie Diaz joins in on the fun as one of the actresses in the parodies.

Mos Def ("16 Blocks," "The Italian Job") is the one to keep an eye out for. He is excellent as Mike with his quirky mannerisms and shy behavior. Like Mark Wahlberg, Mos Def is one of the few rappers-turned-actors that manage to make a smooth transition to film.

"Be Kind Rewind" is one to watch on DVD. However, you won't find yourself hitting rewind when it is over.

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