For all its visual flair and madcap invention, The Science Of Sleep was always going to be Eternal Sunshine’s poor relation: a fanciful deluge of playful surrealism that desperately needed some of Charlie Kaufman’s intellectual heft and emotional heart. One year on, however, Michel Gondry proves his unhinged imagination can work its magic without the Adaptation scribe’s genius underpinning it - and all it took was Jack Black, a camcorder and a store full of erased videotapes.
Yes, videotapes – those clunky, bricks we used to collect in their hundreds in the days before DVD and Sky+. No wonder Danny Glover’s dilapidated rental outlet in New Jersey is doing such bad business, as hard as clerk Mike (Mos Def) works to entice new customers. Things look bleaker still when best pal Jerry (Black) – magnetised from an attempt to sabotage the local power plant – walks in and wipes every title. What to do? Why, shoot replacements, of course: off-the-cuff knockoffs full of improvised props, makeshift FX and scraps of half-remembered dialogue. No one will ever notice the difference – will they? Ironically, Mike and Jerry’s amateurish spins on Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2 and the like prove so successful they’re soon working round the clock to satisfy demand.
You could read Gondry’s kooky fable as a light-hearted attack on soulless Hollywood product. Or maybe it’s a call to arms against heavy-handed corporate protectionism (repped by Sigourney Weaver’s sleek studio lawyer, popping up like the Wicked Witch to shout copyright infringement). Either way, Be Kind Rewind is a charming, disarming treat.
It’s only when the Gallic director’s true intentions are revealed that the film goes a bit whiffy. His over-earnest celebration of a community united behind Black and Def replaces the earlier tart satire with sucrose sentiment. Examine any plot strand too closely, then, and the film starts to flake. Better to accept Be Kind’s child-like logic at face value and enjoy its remakes of RoboCop, Back To The Future and Driving Miss Daisy for the loving, ramshackle homages they are. “That ain’t ‘Ghostbusters!” tuts Def as Black mangles Ray Parker Jr’s theme tune. “I’m pretty sure it is,” Black replies. By the end, you’ll be pretty sure it is, too.
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It takes a special talent to wring so much warm, humane comedy out of such a screwy premise. But the real triumph is how Gondry uses it to champion no-budget indie filmmaking, salute cinema's unifying properties and thumb his nose at the Hollywood system. Bravo!