Flashback: Be Kind Rewind (2008)

Like the muddy, carcass-filled trenches we so elaborately experienced in Sam Mendes’ brilliant 1917, this time of year in movies is “No Man’s Land.”

Unless you’re into redundant ultraviolence (“Birds of Prey”), Tarantino-wannabe violence (I saw The Gentlemen when it was called Snatch, and I saw Snatch when it was called Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), or Bad Boy violence (time to retire, Will and Martin), there’s not much out there that’s new.

This shouldn’t be a surprise as January and February titles rarely hit award show status, nor stay in moviegoer memories.

So, with yet another snowstorm hitting the Denver suburbs, I revisited one of my favorite quirky indie films of all time: Be Kind Rewind (2008). It still holds up.

VHS. VCR. Video. Video Rental…

Such were the terminologies of when videotapes could be rented, watched, and then returned only to be rented again by your next door neighbor who complained that the tape wasn’t rewound at the time of purchase. “Be Kind Rewind” was the annoying slogan plastered on the bulky piece of plastic.

In Michel Gondry’s radically original flick, two lowly video store clerks are faced with the challenge of not only renting out a dying breed of videotapes but making them as well.

There’s no way of describing Be Kind Rewind’s plot without smirking, but I’ll try: Loser drifter, Jerry (played by ever-amped Jack Black), is accidentally “magnetized” by a nearby electrical plant. On an innocent stroll to the local New Jersey video/thrift store, he accidentally demagnetizes and “clears” all the contents of the videotapes on display. In an effort to save the old shop’s business, co-manager, Mike (a composed Mos Def of a more popular reference to rap music), and idiotic Jerry come up with an amazing plan: They will re-film all the erased videos with themselves as the actors through the lens of a cheap, handy camcorder.

I know this sounds brainless, ludicrous, and out of this world, and all three observations are correct. These two characters really are brainless, really believe in their ludicrous plan, and after the first 30 minutes, you realize that you really aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Mike and Jerry replace the Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters with a two-foot version of marshmallows connected by toothpicks. Jerry plays Miss Daisy in Driving Miss Daisy and then covers himself up with cardboard boxes and aluminum foil to play Robocop the next day.

Believe it or not, the finished products are some of the most hilarious put on screen since Mel Brooks’s mockery of Star Wars in his Spaceballs (1987). However, instead of aiming for parody, music video virtuoso Gondry paints a dreamlike landscape in a concrete world to accentuate his characters’ sincere love for movies. The visual results are beautiful and otherworldly, and in a miraculous way, Jack Black and Mos Def receive audience empathy for their passions.

Mike and Jerry’s renditions are so bad, they’re good. Plus, although it may seem chaotic, this film embraces a refreshing outlook: Movies are fun, but they’re more fun to make.

Everyone in this film has half of a brain. Good thing it’s the right half.

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