[Screen It]

(2008) (Jack Black, Mos Def) (PG-13)

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Comedy: After all of the VHS tapes are accidentally erased in a video store, an employee and his friend set out to remake all of the films themselves.
In Passaic, N.J., Mr. Fletcher (DANNY GLOVER) runs an archaic video store known as Be Kind Rewind. While there are still some diehard customers, such as Miss Falewicz (MIA FARROW), the fact that the store only rents VHS tapes means its days are numbered. That's especially true since the local zoning board has given Mr. Fletcher just 60 days to bring the building up to code or else they'll raze the place to make way for new development.

Even so, Fletcher is headed off to celebrate an anniversary involving the late jazz great Fats Waller who supposedly once made the building his home. Accordingly, he leaves the store in the hands of his lone employee, Mike (MOS DEF), with the only direction being that Mike not let his goofball friend, Jerry (JACK BLACK), into the place.

He lives in a trailer next to the local power plant and, being a conspiracy theorist, thinks the government is up to no good with the place. Thus, he sets out to sabotage it, but in the process of doing so, he becomes magnetized. When he enters the video store and starts rearranging the product, he unknowingly erases all of the titles.

When Miss Falewicz wants to rent the movie "Ghostbusters," Jerry and Mike - worried that she'll let Mr. Fletcher know what happened -- decide to make their own low-budget and substantially shortened version of the film, shot with an old home video camera.

That becomes an unexpected hit, and soon they're remaking other titles with the help of customer Alma (MELONIE DIAZ) and Jerry's friend, Wilson (IRV GOOCH). From that point on, they race to keep up with customer demand, all while trying to make enough money to meet the planning board's demands and having to deal with a lawyer, Ms. Lawson (SIGOURNEY WEAVER), who arrives with a cease and desist order.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Befitting her name, Mother Nature is no dummy when it comes to making sure her youngest creations of the animal world have the best shot at surviving. Accordingly, many of them -- human babies included -- are just so darn cute that the parents and other adults can't help but want to protect and nurture them. Unfortunately, cuteness doesn't always survive the transition into adolescence and/or adulthood, thus leaving the parents and others wondering what happened.

The same can be said about the film world. While financial gain is the ultimate motivator for many a filmmaker and certainly most studios, cute ideas can go a long way in ensuring that projects get to grow up and make their way into theaters with the big boys and girls of cinema. Alas, just like their animal counterparts, initial cuteness doesn't always mean the end product is going to be attractive.

Such is the case with "Be Kind Rewind," a comedy that obviously has a cute title as well as a central premise. When two goofball friends find that they've accidentally erased a video store's rental VHS tapes, they decide to remake the titles, albeit in a low-budget, guerilla sort of filmmaking style. To their surprise, their versions of the films become increasingly and then wildly popular with a growing number of customers, thus turning the friends and their collaborators into mini-stars.

While obviously a bit goofy, the premise nevertheless shows promise, and considering that the director of the highly lauded and imaginative "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is behind the effort, things would seem to be aligned for a fun time at a movie that's about movies.

But then one remembers that writer/director Michael Gondry was also behind the disappointing "The Science of Sleep" and "Human Nature," quirky films that -- following and preceding his masterpiece -- also suggested possible fun, but ended up swinging and missing far more often than connecting with a hit.

Yes, I get the point that it's all about the power and "magic" of filmmaking and that no matter the budget or involved talent, a film can still connect with viewers and entertain, educate, and/or transport them -- at least for a few hours -- to some place they've never been before. That's fine and dandy in concept, but this effort ends up coming off like one of the remade pics within it -- low-budget, amateurish, and feeling like it was impulsively slapped together on the fly without the time and effort to make sure everything worked as best as possible.

The film's "best" moments are the slightly satirical send-ups of various popular flicks (including but not limited to "Ghostbusters," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Rush Hour," "RoboCop" and "The Lion King"), and the more viewers are familiar with their various elements, the greater the chance of finding that sort of thing funny, or at least amusing.

I probably chuckled no more than a handful of times at said material, simply because it's nowhere as smart, imaginative, or funny as all of it so easily could have been. Worse yet, the mediocre to lame reproductions -- so-called "sweded" pics -- aren't good (or bad) enough to warrant such a fervent reaction from the customers within this film, thus making all of those moments feel artificial and false.

Stars Jack Black and Mos Def certainly seem game for doing the required lightweight comedy, but the weak script undermines their abilities and eventually wears on the viewer's patience (since goofiness reins supreme here, where's their sweded version of the third remake of "King Kong" that starred Black?). Danny Glover appears as the owner of the seemingly doomed VHS store, but a subplot featuring his obsession with a now deceased jazz legend also goes nowhere, while Mia Farrow is wasted playing a store customer who unfortunately doesn't request a sweded version of "Rosemary's Baby."

As in the real world, cute will only take you so far, and that's certainly the case with the premise here. Throw in a slapdash filmmaking style and an obvious shortage of imagination, smarts and most importantly, fun, and the result is a film that's certainly not memorable or good enough to warrant getting its own "sweded" treatment somewhere down the line. "Be Kind Rewind" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed January 24, 2008 / Posted February 22, 2008

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