'Be Kind Rewind' looks like a skit from 'SNL'

Be Kind Rewind (PG-13)

1 star out of 4

After two stunning collaborations with genius screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Human Nature"), director Michel Gondry chose to make movies based on his own scripts. "The Science of Sleep," while not as good as the Kaufman films, was still an innovative and ethereal fantasy piece. Gondry had firmly established himself as the rightful heir to the Terry Gilliam legacy.

"Be Kind Rewind" marks a huge and completely dumbfounding creative backslide for Gondry. Totally devoid of his usually stunning visuals and free-flowing narrative style, the movie looks like a third-rate, improvised student film. The hackneyed, too-precious and recycled plot only adds to its underdeveloped, amateurish feel. If you're a fan of Amanda Bynes' "The Amanda Show," you'll immediately recognize the similarities to the film and one of her skits.

The premise itself is stuck in a time warp. In present day Passaic, N.J., the rental-only video store owned by Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) is the final roadblock for a condo developer looking to overhaul the neighborhood. The developer informs Fletcher he has 60 days to make repairs he could never afford or surrender to the wrecking ball. So what does Fletcher do next? He goes on an extended vacation and leaves the store in the hands of Mike (Mos Def), a dedicated but questionably competent employee.

The store is about the size of the average living room and is stocked only with back catalog VHS tapes. After an accident that defies logic, Mike's whirling dervish friend Jerry (Jack Black) accidentally erases the content from the tapes. Instead of making the obvious choice to simply replace the tapes (or make copies from DVDs), Mike and Jerry decide to produce their own versions of the movies, believing none of the customers will notice the difference.

Stretching the believability factor far beyond the breaking point, Mike and Jerry chose to remake high-budget, visual extravaganzas such as "Ghost Busters," "Rush Hour 2," "Men in Black" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Evidently, the residents of Passaic are incredibly dedicated to the store or are very easy to please as they line up in droves to rent the quickly pirated, "sweded" titles. Don't bother looking up the definition of "sweded" - it's a word Gondry invented for the movie.

Throughout, Gondry alternates between the sentimentality of Frank Capra and the arthouse guerilla approach of Kevin Smith. It wouldn't be going out on a limb to call Gondry's film "Frank Capra's Clerks." If the movie were set two decades ago - which, given the bargain basement set designs, would have been entirely possible - it might have struck a familiar chord. It's also just too hard to believe that the entire population of a major urban city such as Passaic would be so scared of DVD technology.

A comedy without humor and a fantasy absent of anything fantastical, "Be Kind Rewind" is nothing more than a half-baked "Saturday Night Live" skit stretched out to 90-plus minutes. It's certainly not worth your time or money, whether it be $10 at a theater or even $1 at that doomed Passaic rental outlet. (New Line)