As premises for movies go, Be Kind Rewind's is slight and wacky. Written and directed by Michel Gondry, of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, the film follows Jerry and his buddy, Mike (Mos Def) - who's been put in charge of the shop while the owner (Danny Glover) is off spying on the competition - as they set out to make their own versions of titles to replace the destroyed inventory: Ghostbusters with tin-foil suits, Rush Hour 2 in a playground, The Lion King with crayons and construction paper.
Using flimsy props and a cast of total amateurs - including many of the store's patrons - Mike and Jerry's homemade homages become huge hits.
The store, threatened with demolition in the name of urban renewal, gets a new lease on life, and audiences get to see hysterical shoestring (and cardboard and pipe-cleaner) reenactments of scenes from, among others, 2001: A Space Odyssey ("I think I'll take a jog around the space capsule, Hal"), Driving Miss Daisy, Carrie, Robocop and King Kong.
Gondry is a whimsical surrealist who put his Science of Sleep's melancholy hero, Gael Garcia Bernal, in a similarly slapdash playhouse universe, replete with a make-believe TV studio. In Be Kind Rewind, the director lets his likable cast amble and shamble (Melonie Diaz and Mia Farrow share the screen with Black, Def and Glover), building to a hokey, folksy Capraesque finish.
A celebration of the DIY aesthetic, and of the universal appeal of movies, Be Kind Rewind is a charmingly off-the-wall little tale. Black doesn't do anything he hasn't done before (in fact, he's already done his remake of King Kong!), Def is easygoing and game, Glover seems to be enjoying himself as he offers a round of loose comic riffs, and Gondry - a Frenchman - celebrates great American cultural institutions: Hollywood, jazz and rhythm and blues (Fats Waller looms large in the plot) and the good old corner video store.
Be Kind Rewind *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Michel Gondry. With Jack Black, Mos Def, Melonie Diaz, Mia Farrow and Danny Glover. Distributed by New Line Cinema.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.