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Sundance Film Festival
PARK CITY — After highly imaginative explorations of man’s natural instincts (“Human Nature”) and the interplay of memory, dreams and personal relationships (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep”), Michel Gondry has turned his playful gaze to film itself.
“Be Kind Rewind” wants to probe the interplay among films, their audience and the people who make them. It’s an exuberant, fanciful fable set amid the scruffy outskirts of American society, where people’s need for escapism coincides with their desire to participate in its creation.
For all of Gondry’s undeniable talent, it would be hard to imagine him pulling off this delicate and even cornball conceit without his star, Jack Black. With irrepressible exuberance and going-in-five-directions energy, Black is the embodiment of Gondry’s whimsical notion that a small-town Ed Wood could infect an entire downtrodden neighborhood with the filmmaking fever.
As with most Gondry films, “Rewind” is not for all tastes. Its good-natured sweetness will appeal to many; others may shun the fractured fairy tale altogether. Yet this French filmmaker has developed enough of an international fan base for his fanciful films to fully support this modestly budgeted effort. New Line releases the film Feb. 22.
Certain that microwaves from the power plant he lives near are killing him, Jerry (Black), a mechanic in the struggling New Jersey town of Passaic, tries to sabotage the plant. Only he gets caught in an electromagnetic field that leaves him dazed, confused and magnetized. He thus inadvertently erases every videotape in a rental store run by his childhood pal Mike (Mos Def) while its owner, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), is away.
When customer Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) wants to check out “Ghostbusters,” Jerry and Mike stall her until the end of the day. They spend that time making their own version of that film using a video camera, homemade props and playing all the roles themselves. Miss Falewicz, who has never seen the film, actually likes their version. So the two continue the ruse by making crude versions of “Rush Hour,” “Robocop,” “Boyz N the Hood” and “The Lion King” for loyal customers. Jerry calls the process of re-enacting these popular movies “sweding,” though the reason for that term is a bit hazy.
Soon the customers themselves are participating in these “swedes.” Productions get a bit more lavish for “King Kong,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Carrie” through the use of “special effects” and camera tricks. Then a Hollywood lawyer (a nicely imperious Sigourney Weaver) shows up with charges of intellectual property theft. She demands the tapes’ destruction.
Gondry, who also wrote the script, keeps the focus on pop cinema. No one swedes a Bergman movie or “Citizen Kane.” (Which might have taken the humor in a very different yet interesting direction.) Consequently, the film doesn’t go very far in its examination of film culture. “Rewind” can be read as a lampoon of indie filmmaking or the preposterousness of much of popular cinema or simply a gentle fable about the YouTube/MySpace generation’s fascination with ego-centric creativity.
The climax — in which the store’s dilapidated building is threatened with demolition and everyone including Mr. Fletcher makes one final film supporting Fletcher’s long-held claim that jazz legend Fats Waller was born in the location of the video store — pretty much squeezes all the comic action that’s left in this whimsy about sweding. The film may overstay its welcome by a good 10 minutes. But everyone has been such good company, it feels churlish to say so.
The real film crew, in this film about bad filmmaking, performs very well indeed.
BE KIND REWIND
Screenwriter-director: Michel Gondry
Producers: Georges Bermann, Michel Gondry, Julie Fong
Executive producers: Toby Emmerich, Guy Stodel
Director of photography: Ellen Kuras
Production designer: Dan Leigh
Music: Jean-Michel Bernard
Co-producer: Ann Ruark
Costume designers: Rachel Afiley, Kishu Chand
Editor: Jeff Buchanan
Jerry: Jack Black
Mike: Mos Def
Mr. Fletcher: Danny Glover
Miss Falewicz: Mia Farrow
Alma: Melonie Diaz
Running time — 100 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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