The titular establishment dodders along on a shabby corner in Passaic, New Jersey. It’s a neighborhood video store whose owner — called Mr. Fletcher, as if this were Sesame Street, and portrayed by Danny Glover in grumpy grandpa mode — continues to stock VHS tapes. Exclusively. With the holes in this business plan finally about to close the shop, Fletcher goes on an extended stakeout of the chain store around the way, leaving employee Mike (Mos Def) to man the counter. Mike is a good kid — he even tolerates Jerry, who works and lives in a junkyard down the street in the shadow of an electrical substation. Jerry thinks the waves and radiation are damaging his brain. The audience, seeing the energetic idiocy Jack Black brings to role, will likely concur.
And here the fantasy logic of director Michel Gondry springs into whimsical action. Though bluer and slower than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep — Gondry’s two love stories set in the subconscious — Be Kind Rewind shares their faith in weird science and unblinking acceptance of the absurd. After Jerry’s attempt at high-voltage sabotage converts him into a human magnet, he erases every tape in the inventory. Then he and Mike try to fix things by remaking the movies, starting with Ghostbusters: Mike wraps himself in tinfoil to approximate Bill Murray’s uniform; Jerry’s mechanic puts on a wig to play Sigourney Weaver’s role; they apparently buy materials for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man down at the bodega.
What begins as a scheme turns into a hit, and as Passaic starts clamoring for these makeshift versions of Rush Hour 2 and Driving Miss Daisy, Gondry connects the guys’ toil and glee with a kind of old-time neighborhood hominess that’s dying away and a jazzed creative joy that never will. When boyish Mike and childish Jerry pick up the camera and their dime-store special-effects supplies, they’re not really making Boogie Nights and The Lion King. They are making Michel Gondry films, as if playing in a dreamy sandbox.