Be Kind Rewind
2/5
22nd FebruaryWhat do you do when you need an excuse for some technically impressive visual comedy, around which to base a feature-length film? Equally, what do you do when your childhood chum  appropriates a magnetic field and wipes all the tapes at your video-rental shop? These are the conundrums faced, respectively, by award-winning writer/director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) and the lead character of his latest film – and it seems they have a common answer: create a series of homages to cinema’s most iconic movies.Be Kind Rewind sees Mike (Mos Def) and Jerry (Jack Black) doing just that and, in the process, becoming unwitting local heroes, managing to turn around the fortunes of their doomed store. Initially, a long-shot attempt to cover up the (somewhat contrived) wiping of all their videos, their attempt to recreate classic movies with nothing but a camcorder and a lateral imagination becomes a business in itself – known (for no apparent reason) as ‘sweding’. Having cut his teeth on music videos, Gondry is unsurprisingly in his element here, with terrific visual creativity and montages as detailed, ingenious and witty as anything he’s previously produced. Those looking for Gondry’s trademark style will not be disappointed.Nor will those looking for a laugh. The film’s visual and physical gags fit nicely with Black’s recognisable but enjoyable stock character, the clumsy layabout with sky-high aspirations. The camera loves him, frequently emphasising his verbal scatting over Def’s straightman performance. The result – though fostering some brilliant and seemingly ad-libbed non-sequiters – inhibits the flow of the story as well as hindering the development of the film’s central relationship. Sadly, Gondry is determined to build his comedy on meaningful, dramatic foundations, and Black and Def simply fail to gel convincingly enough to pass as lifelong pals capable of serving as a compelling fulcrum for this serious angle.Indeed, it is once we step outside the moments of comedy that the work starts to fall apart. Gondry (as writer of the film as well) does not have the necessary skill to weave a coherent narrative, with such devices as the nearby power plant and dry cleaners awkwardly introduced and soon forgotten. It doesn’t help that a large cast of minor characters bring with them such diverse themes as cultural identity and modernisation as well as issues including love, friendship, and truth. Once touched on, these are left to stand alone and find no place in the emerging and unsteady storyline. The resulting film is much like Black and Def’s ‘swedes’ themselves in that, despite its great passion and vision, it never succeeds in being more than a ridiculous but enjoyable piece of fun.by Tom Crawshaw