Whimsy's a hard tone to pull off in a movie. You need to keep things light, but there's the danger of the movie just floating away, so you need to ground everything as well. At first, I resisted Be Kind Rewind, Michel Gondry's lark of a movie about our need to feel connected to one another through the movies we watch. But just when the movie would start to float away, Gondry would pull it back to the ground, anchor it in emotion. Some of you may have trouble getting on Gondry's wavelength, especially if you're not a big Jack Black fan. But there's a sweetness here, a nostalgia for the good ol' days of VHS - you heard me, VHS - that's hard to resist.
So is Black, if you ask me. He made a monkey out of himself in King Kong, where he played a monomaniacal movie nut with millions of dollars at his disposal. Here, he plays a monomaniacal movie nut with mere pennies at his disposal, and the lack of pretension suits him. He's Jerry, a klutz who lives in a camper next to a power plant and wears a colander on his head to keep the microwaves from frying his brain. Like Steve Carell's Michael on The Office, Jerry knows a little about a lot, which is a dangerous thing. Also like Michael, he's a blowhard, and Black wrote the book on blowhards. He knows just how hard to blow to keep from getting on our nerves.
Jerry is both a friend and a major thorn in the side of Mike, a video-store clerk played by Mos Def. Except this is no ordinary video store, this is one that still carries actual videotapes, those weird plastic boxes that you would stick in something called a VCR. Nobody ever explains why the store's stuck in the '80s, but the proprietor, played by Danny Glover, obviously prefers the past over the future. He's convinced everybody that Fats Waller, the legendary pianist and entertainer, was born in the building. And the spirit of Fats Waller - a smile on the face and a song in the heart - presides over the movie, which opens and closes with footage from a Waller biopic.
Actually, it's fake footage, which is where the whimsy comes in. With the boss out of town and Mike left in charge, Jerry accidentally demagnetizes all the store's videotapes. So what do these two do? They make their own versions with the pennies at their disposal. First up is Ghostbusters, which gets the DIY treatment, complete with marshmallows for the giant Pillsbury Doughboy. And wouldn't you know it, people actually like these YouTube knockoffs, in an Ed Wood kind of way. Before long, there are lines around the block and a visit from (speaking of Ghostbusters) Sigourney Weaver as a studio representative concerned about copyright infringement.
Rush Hour II, Robocop, Driving Miss Daisy - there's no rhyme or reason to which movies Gondry has chosen for remakes, but the re-creation process is so low-tech you wonder whether Gilligan and the Skipper didn't have a hand in the carpentry. Regardless, Black and Mos Def get their own little-buddy thing going, their rapport as effortless as that of an old vaudeville act. Mos Def brings a nice soulfulness to Mike, who just wants to do the right thing, logic be damned. But Black is the star of the show and of most of the shows within the show. Not since School of Rock has he seemed so comfortable barreling through the world. Fats would have loved him.