Be Kind Rewind
The movie business isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Just ask Mike. He knows how hard it can be, what with stocking the shelves, arranging the shelves, renting movies to the occasional customer who wanders in. ...
Oh, did I give you the wrong impression? Ha-ha! No, Mike's not in the movie business. He just works at a tiny video rental place in Passaic, N.J. The store, called Be Kind Rewind, is a mom-and-pop outfit without the mom: The pop would be Mr. Fletcher, Mike's surrogate father figure.
The city wants to condemn the decaying building (supposedly the birthplace of legendary musician Fats Waller) to make way for some new swanky condos. And Mr. Fletcher doesn't have the cash to fix it. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he only rents VHS tapes—about as popular with film lovers these days as sticky theater floors. Or maybe it's Mike's friend Jerry, who hangs out in the store and scares away customers. Or the fact that the store's interior has all the charm of a college dorm room that hasn't been vacuumed since the first Gulf War.
Whatever the reason, Mr. Fletcher decides to scout the competition and, while he's away, turn the store over to Mike. It's a thrill for Mike, and a responsibility he takes very seriously. Too bad he doesn't get Mr. Fletcher's most critical piece of advice—"keep Jerry out!"—until it's too late.
See, Jerry is a bit of a nutcase. He's convinced the government is out to melt his brain through the power plant that stands next to his trailer—so much so that he and his guests wear colanders to protect themselves from evil emissions. But colanders are really just a temporary fix. The only real solution, Jerry believes, is to shut down the plant itself.
When he tries to do so, he gets a shock. Literally.
Indeed, the power plant magnetizes the poor fellow, and powerful human magnets don't get along well with videotapes. Jerry erases every VHS tape in Be Kind Rewind, leaving Mike with a handful of angry customers and a whopping dilemma. How can he replace the video store's stock? A quick trip to Best Buy? A buying spree on Amazon? No. The solution, Mike figures, is to re-create every movie in the store from scratch. The movies may be a little shorter than the originals, and a little rougher. But they do feature Jerry, a new friend named Alma—and colanders full of cracked-brain creativity.
Be Kind Rewind is a contemporary fable that lauds the power of film, the importance of community and how the two can, at times, intersect.
Mike and Jerry's odd little productions become the most popular items in the video store (though it's not hard to beat shelves full of blank tapes), and soon there are lines forming outside with people wanting to watch these modified (or, as Mike and Jerry call them, "sweded") movies. Before long, these once-passive renters begin snagging parts in these sweded productions, and a rendition of, say, Boyz n the Hood might feature gang members and senior citizens acting out scenes together—the seniors wearing afro wigs to look the part.
This community revolves, in some ways, around Mike, who has both heart and honor. He truly wants to make Mr. Fletcher proud, and when the tapes are first erased, he tries to do right by his customers. As he grows into his new role as filmmaker, he shows a commitment to his craft (such as it is). Even as the neighborhood gathers in the store to watch Mike's first non-copyright-busting film, he's taping the final scene himself, making sure it's just right.
A neighborhood chaplain, dressed with a cleric's collar, takes part in a pseudo-documentary about Fats Waller, claiming (and, we can assume, lying) that the musician played Bunco in his church. One store customer—a rough, juvenile delinquent type—wears a garish cross around his neck, rapper-style. After Mr. Fletcher makes a terrible confession to Mike, the older man says, "Now I'm going to hell upstairs." And he walks up the stairs.
Mike, Jerry and Mr. Fletcher have a conversation about how little (or how much) "action" they've seen, using sexual innuendo and crass words that refer to male body parts (and masturbation).
The sweded films reenact some love and sex scenes from popular films, but in a distinctly silly way. An example: In a sweded version of Boogie Nights (which focuses on the porn industry), Jerry and Alma pantomime a sex scene which involves them kneeling, fully clothed and somewhat covered by a blanket, running their hands over each other's bodies—in fast-forward motion. We hear Jerry say, "Hug-hug-kiss-kiss-I-want-to-have-sex-with-you-kiss-kiss."
Before Alma comes into the picture, Mike and Jerry's designated "actress" is a male auto mechanic named Wilson. No one actually kisses Wilson—Jerry says "kissing my mechanic is disturbing"—but the man does run around in outlandish drag for a bit. Unrelated to that: One of Alma's shirts is low-cut.
Mike and Alma also kiss—or nearly do so—under the pretext that Mike is doing a "touch test" to see if Alma has a mustache. Mike and Jerry also discover that the owner of a rival video store is sleeping, temporarily, in a room set aside for hard-core porn.
Jerry's tangle with the power plant involves him being lifted from the ground in a web of electricity—surely a painful, though not particularly gory, experience. We also see Jerry fall off a fence, slam into a couple of metal objects (because he's magnetized) and have a punching/wrestling match with Mike. Jerry and Mike break into a video store by smashing some windows, and the store's owner—carrying a knife—catches Mike hanging from a ledge.
Mike and Jerry's sweded movies also contain some re-created violence that, while initially graphic and intense, lose something in translation. The most graphic re-creation comes during a version of a gangland hit: One of the victims—a mannequin—is "shot" in the head. The filmmaking team apparently stops the camera and puts a cheese pizza on the ground beneath the head as a stand-in, apparently, for splattered brains and blood.
Audiences also see sweded versions of action scenes from Ghostbusters, King Kong and Rush Hour 2. In the Ghostbusters climax, Jerry and Mike set a bunch of marshmallows on fire and, while doing so, accidentally destroy the car the marshmallows are on top of.
The only truly violent person in Be Kind Rewind is a punky gang wannabe named Craig who threatens Mike and Jerry verbally. He cleans up his act once Mr. Fletcher literally twists his arm and forces him to listen to Fats Waller. Craig also has a pile of trash dumped on him at one point.
[Spoiler Warning] We witness some serious videotape carnage when movie studio lawyers get wind of Mike and Jerry's black market video business. The lawyers confiscate all the sweded movies and run them over with a steamroller.
Crude or Profane Language
At least one s-word. Characters misuse Jesus' name a handful of times and say God's name inappropriately another couple of times. They also use profanities such as "h---" and "d--n" with some regularity, and refer to body parts and bodily functions in crude terms. "Duck" is used as a euphemism for the f-word.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The only thing that gets smoked in Be Kind Rewind is Jerry, and that's by the power plant. Characters are shown drinking beer on occasion. Jerry accidentally swallows a whole bottle of aspirin, which he regurgitates after drinking a bucket of warm water.
Other Negative Elements
Jerry feels pretty ill after his, um, shocking encounter with the power plant. He staggers past Be Kind Rewind and throws up several times in the street. (The actual retch-and-splatter is largely hidden from view.) He also decides to urinate in the street. (We see the resulting metallic-looking and magnetic urine flow down the gutter, dragging with it the occasional muffler.)
Mike and Jerry break a host of laws. They spray-paint the underside of a bridge with a Fats Waller mural, plot to sabotage the power plant and shatter several windows in a botched attempt to steal a rival video store's high-tech projector. And, of course, there's the matter of copyright infringement—which could earn Mike and Jerry fines, we're told, of $3.15 billion, a jail term of 63,000 years, or both.
[Spoiler Warning] Mr. Fletcher has been lying for years that Fats Waller was born in the same building that now houses his video store. He does finally 'fess up, saying it was all a bedtime story. Mike, though momentarily crushed, decides to make a "documentary" about Waller's early years to "prove" Waller was born there. That, of course, would be classified as lying in some circles. ...
Which brings us to what Be Kind Rewind is really about—the power of story.
"The universe is made of stories, not atoms," said 20th century poet Muriel Rukeyser. Sure, every one of us is a mass of cells and chemicals, but our stories—our hopes, our fears, our experiences—are what make us who we are. Story is how we interact with each other, and how we pass ourselves on. I inherited more from my father than a receding hairline: I inherited the knowledge that he grew up on the farm, served in the army, fell in love with my mom, came to Christ. His stories, and the character these stories forged, influence me more, I'd argue, than any of the genes he handed me.
Every story is unique to us—twisted slightly out of true form because we view it with our own unique filters. Yet we share stories, too, and embrace them as a community. In Be Kind Rewind, total strangers muse about how much the Disney film The Lion King affected them—how they'd sometimes cry when lion daddy Mufasa dies. Similarly—offscreen—Christians embrace the true story of the Gospel: We are Christians because we were deeply moved by Jesus' teachings, His sacrifice, His resurrection. It's a story that changed our lives, and a story we long to share. Through this story we grow closer to Christ and to one another.
Be Kind Rewind is not, by any means, a Christian film. How could it be? It's a spoof movie! But it does touch on this real magic of story. It acknowledges the simple power of storytelling—even if they're silly, sweded stories that seem to have less merit than the tape on which they're recorded.
Then, through its climactic fabricated documentary about a very real jazz player, Be Kind Rewind also hints at the dangers of story. Stories so easily can become lies, it giggles. Powerful lies.
A character tells Mike, "Our past belongs to us. We can change it if we want." Only that's not true. There are plenty of things about my past I'd love to change. But, while I've been forgiven for these things, I can't change them. They're—always—part of my story.
What the point to all this? Movies are full of powerful stories, and sometimes they contain powerful lies. Moviemakers can twist facts and mold new morals. It's terribly misleading to dismiss stories as "just stories." Even a silly Jack Black spoof movie teaches something. And when we watch them, they become part of us.
We, unlike Jerry, can't just erase stories with a magnetic touch.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jack Black as Jerry; Mos Def as Mike; Danny Glover as Mr. Fletcher; Melonie Diaz as Alma; Mia Farrow as Miss Falewicz
New Line Cinema