‘Be Kind, Rewind’ unique comedy

David Hohwald

What happens when seasoned artistic director Michel Gondry and actors like Jack Black and Mos Def team up to make a movie about a movie rental store in Passaic, New N.J.?

The answer is nearly as convoluted as the premise itself.

Gondry, fresh off success with the films “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep,” decides to take a notable departure from his traditional plot points in “Be Kind, Rewind,” but his comedic, screwball antics, still manage to convey some of the interesting messages he has to tell about art and humanity.

However, they do tend to get caught in a muddle of a plot that leaves the viewer hoping for a little more clarity.

The big headliner for “Be Kind, Rewind” has to be Black, an actor with pretty serious commercial appeal, who garners more than a few laughs.

In the film he plays Jerry, a general oddball whose goof results in a series of antics in which he and Mos Def have to recreate famous movies with seriously limited resources. Black is certainly fun, and he’s worth more than a few laughs, but he does not do anything new in the film.

Mos Def is less than stellar as well, and while he does a decent job portraying the straight man to Black’s hijinks, he really does not draw the viewer in.

Melonie Diaz gives a surprisingly good performance as Alma, a na’ve girl roped into the scam, and she shows a lot of heart in her role.

That said, Danny Glover and Mia Farrow are pretty mediocre. They do not do much to sell their characters, and in the end, they fall very flat.

Acting aside, the script is where both the strengths and weaknesses of “Be Kind, Rewind” lie.

As a comedy the most important thing the movie has to do is make the viewer laugh, and there are plenty of funny moments.

The antics and a few bits of dialogue are fun, but the movie really shines comedically when Gondry shows Mos Def and Jack Black’s creations to the audience.

The have a “so bad it’s good” quality that’s worth more than a few chuckles.

However, there are not a ton of laugh-out-loud moments.

The humor never really overwhelms the viewer, which is interesting but a bit unsatisfying.

The same is true with his themes. Gondry tries to develop some interesting ideas about the value of art in relation to how people view it.

The problem is it never really gets off the ground, and the promise of coming to an adequate resolution is never fulfilled.

The real problem lies, though, in the pacing of the film.

Gondry’s script is all over the place, and while the scenes do not ever cut together poorly, the plot advances in a herky-jerky motion, with huge spans of the film where little happens.

This makes the ending feel completely rushed and a little bit contrived.

He injects sentimentality at the right moments, but these moments do not fit together well enough to create a contiguous product. This hurts not only the plot but the character development, which seems forced at times.

In terms of camera skills, Gondry is on a level above most filmmakers, and it shows in the movie.

“Be Kind, Rewind” is absolutely gorgeous at times, but Gondry does not over-do it, a flaw he seems to be rectifying. He uses some cool tricks to really sell the shoddiness of Mos Def’s low-budget films, and it is truly fun to watch. He also makes interesting use of lighting and set to show the audience the urban decay in Passaic.

It isn’t as flashy as some of his previous work, but Gondry gets the job done with his cinematography here.

All in all, there is plenty to like about “Be Kind, Rewind.”

It has some pretty solid acting and plenty of laughs, and it explores some interesting subject matter, albeit hastily.

It even has some great camera work by Gondry. Sadly, the movie never reaches its full potential due to pacing problems with the script that kill the chances for creating a fully fleshed-out narrative.

See “Be Kind, Rewind for the laughs,” but do not expect the same depth that previous Gondry films have had.