Postmodern comedy unkind to Jack Black

CanWest News Service
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Michel Gondry does not have it in him to make an uninteresting movie, but he is capable - Im here to tell you after 101 minutes of painful whimsy called Be Kind Rewind - to make a silly one.

Michel Gondry does not have it in him to make an uninteresting movie, but he is capable - Im here to tell you after 101 minutes of painful whimsy called Be Kind Rewind - to make a silly one. This is Gondry run amok, a postmodernist who has become lost in his own cats cradle of self-reference: Be Kind Rewind is set in the slapped-together world of Passaic, N.J., and about a couple of video store clerks who create slapped-together movies, and the fact that the film itself feels slapped together is the first indication that postmodernism is not, after all, its own reward.

Gondry, who played so deftly with time and memory in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, feels lost in Passaic, portrayed as a rundown outskirts of broken dreams where Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def) work in a video store called Be Kind Rewind (1 Video 1 Day 1 Dollar). Business is bad and bankruptcy is imminent.

Jerry, who seems to be clinically insane - that is, Gondry has given Black untrammelled licence to mug - is a paranoid who believes the local power plant is controlling his mind (he wears a colander on his head to fight off the bad rays). When he attempts to sabotage it, in a scene that looks like a combination of Back to the Future and Frankenstein, he becomes magnetized. When he steps into the video store, he accidentally erases every tape.

This forces Jerry and Mike to improvise, and they end up making their own do-it-yourself videos of such films as Ghostbusters (both of them sheathed in aluminum wrap), Driving Miss Daisy (Black in a print dress), and Rush Hour 2 (Black as Jackie Chan: We gotta go solve a clime). The movies become a surprise hit in the neighbourhood, one of those inner cities that Gondry seems to understand through other Hollywood movies, a low-income fantasy populated by characters who are poor but colourful.

The makeshift films that Jerry and Mike create are absurd but charming marvels of low-budget, homemade innovation, featuring cars that are cardboard cut-outs and night scenes that use video negatives. The movie calls this process sweding, a term Gondry invented, and there are several Internet sites (including whenhomelesstakeovertheworld.com, featuring products made of cardboard) devoted to it and similar ideas. The joke, of course, is that Be Kind Rewind itself appears to be sweded out of the materials at hand: Blacks puckishness, for instance, or the dignified maturity of Danny Glover, who plays the owner of the video store.

The movies ideas are old hat and borrowed, although the filmmakers could argue that they are simply sweded. The presentation, however, is uniquely Gondry, and some scenes - of the magnetized Jerry being hurled against the side of a building, for instance, or of the absurd movie copies that use photographs of faces for crowd scenes - are breathtaking in their discombobulated stupidity. Like The Science of Sleep, the Gondry picture in which Gael Garcia Bernal swedes a talk show set in his apartment, Be Kind Rewind is a film that falls in love with its gadgetry and then builds a gimcrack world around them. Theres a good idea in here somewhere, but the fact that its built out of plastic wrap and duct tape doesnt make it useful.



Geographic location: Passaic, N.J., Passaic, Hollywood

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