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Jack Black and Mos Def keep Be Kind Rewind just mad enough

Ever have one of those days where you find yourself a ridiculous person in a ludicrous situation in a bizarre town full of absurd people, and all those abnormal elements somehow add up to a bafflingly normal total? That's a pretty accurate (if long-winded) one-sentence summary of Be Kind Rewind, Jack Black's latest expedition into cinematic wackiness.

Black's Jerry is Be Kind Rewind's embodiment of Homer Simpson's beer—the cause of, and solution for, all the problems around him. A trailer-dwelling conspiracy theorist and second-hand auto-parts dealer in a town where that's a legitimate career choice, Jerry's anti-establishment crusade leads to disaster when a botched power-grid sabotage attempt turns him into a living electromagnet.

In the DVD era, this shouldn't be a problem, but Rewind's Passaic, N.J., seems to reside in the same Twilight Zone America with Napoleon Dynamite's time-warped version of Preston, Idaho. Jerry's best friend, Mike (Mos Def), has somehow managed to find gainful employment in a store that still exclusively stocks VHS tapes. Once Jerry's condition inevitably wipes clean Mike's inventory, the two have to cover up the disaster by the only means at their disposal: manually recreating every movie in stock as it is requested.

Of course, film logic unavoidably kicks in and the plan becomes just crazy enough to work; business picks up, and a sleepy little town wakes up to the wonder of Spunky Hometown Heroes Using Their Dreams to Save the Day just in time to fight renovation-hungry property developers and the lawsuit-hungry Motion Picture Alliance of America. (Note to Hollywood: As funny as casting the MPAA as the antagonist is, slapping on tear-jerking endings in the last five minutes got on my nerves when I was four. Stop it).

Actually, mentioning Black early and often probably does the film a disservice. It's not just one of those Jack Black one-offs; Black has top billing, and his character is integral to the storyline, but mostly as a mechanism to get the plot going or as a fount of madness from which its outlandish ideas spring. It's a terrible thing to say, I know, but whoever cast Black as a madman with an ego problem who thinks he can act and whose hammy posturing is used for comic relief is an absolute genius.

One of these days, maybe Black will get a Jamie Foxx-as-Ray Charles-level break, but until then, as long as his handlers can keep him from trying to steal the show, roles like Rewind's Jerry should keep his career afloat. Mos Def's Mike, for his part, is affable yet subdued, as though a little bit of self-awareness is in there somewhere, constantly being browbeaten by everything else's ambient weirdness. Meanwhile, Danny Glover has apparently gotten over getting too old for this shit and has instead embraced it—his portrayal of Be Kind Rewind (the store, not the movie) patriarch Mr. Fletcher, awash in tradition but straining quixotically against its sedentary effect on his business, is Rewind's mandatory poignant element.

Rewind is a weird buddy comedy, like Clerks if Kevin Smith had gotten really drunk, watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Beavis and Butthead Do America back-to-back before writing his script. The back-and-forth between the main characters, the supporting cast, and their world at large approaches cleverness, but it only makes sense within the context of a place that's a little off-kilter.

At it's core, though, Be Kind Rewind one of those smartly stupid flicks that grabs the choice demographic with a name (Black), muddies the water with other names in non-traditional roles (Mos Def, Glover, and Mia Farrow), throws in a few non-names in speaking roles for flavor, steeps for a couple of hours in wacky antics, and serves chilled. Depending on your tastes, it probably won't blow your mind, man, but it suffices as a nice fluffy snack.

Or, you know, as a rental.


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