The Hatchet goes to the Sundance Film Festival: “Be Kind Rewind”

PARK CITY, Utah — As far as anticipated releases go, “Be Kind Rewind” (Partizan, 2008) is probably in the pole position since all the Oscar contenders are already in theaters. Coming to D.C. Feb. 22, this feel-good comedy packs a star-studded punch. Rapper/actor Mos Def and Jack Black team up with the French imaginative genius Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) in hopes of erasing the uncharacteristically bad “Science of Sleep” (Partizan, 2006).

Mos Def plays Mike, a VHS rental clerk for Be Kind Rewind videos. His boss is Danny Glover (hilarious already), who is taking a trip to investigate the competing video rental market. Mike is loyal to his boss and the store because he raised him in an apartment upstairs. Like all comedies, the dumb friend emerges and Jack Black is perfect for the role. Black plays Jerry, a guy who lives in a trailer, engineers useless contraptions and gets Michael into constant trouble.

The movie’s plot is about a scramble to re-film all the VHS tapes that Jerry erases one day by accident. As a team, Jerry and Mike become popular and a demand for their videos becomes vast – a good thing, because the store is a few weeks away from being knocked down for new apartments. This is where the ingenuity of Gondry shines through. He is able to creatively make a statement about old and new. A dying video store’s destruction for a new apartment building would usually be seen as a good thing. Gondry gives us an inside look at victims of gentrification, and it’s sad. He also construes technology as (gasp!) limiting to the imagination. The old distributed VHS tapes, unlike the new DVDs, can be recorded over for new material. This allows two friends to creatively abridge the classics into something new, while simultaneously appreciating the old medium.

In one scene, Jerry and Mike attempt to recreate the movie “Ghostbusters,” using streamers as electric-looking special effects that are used to capture ghosts. This is by far the funniest 10 minutes of the 101-minute film. I had to control myself from falling off the chair and laughing too hard, and people were staring.

The rest of the re-filmed spoofs are very funny for the passionate movie watcher, but I’m afraid some of the references will be lost. This problem was certainly evident as small crowds throughout the theater could be heard laughing at different parts. The remake of “2001 A Space Odyssey” was a crowd favorite, as was “Driving Miss Daisy.”

I loved this film and I think you will too. It’s got sentimentalism to spare and the laughs were genuine. Jack Black and Mos Def are a formidable tandem. Together, they produced many, many laughs.

“Be Kind Rewind’s” release should be pretty wide going into the Oscars. Hopefully it doesn’t suffer as people rush to see its contenders before the awards ceremony. If you’ve seen a lot of movies, or even just “Ghostbusters,” this movie will be worth your time.

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