In a run-down side-street in Passaic, New Jersey, Mike (Mos Def) works at the titular video library, owned by Mr Fletcher (Danny Glover) and said to be the building that jazz legend Fats Waller was born in. Nevertheless, the Passaic town fathers want to tear the place down and build a nice row of apartments. While Mr Fletcher goes away for a week in an effort to modernise and save the business, Mike is warned not to let his accident-prone best pal Jerry (Jack Black) anywhere near the shop. Jerry, however, is unstoppable and soon has Mike recruited for his mission to sabotage a local power station which he thinks is infecting his mind with cosmic rays. The mission goes badly, Jerry is magnetized and inadvertently blanks all of the shop’s VHS cassettes.
Not wanting to put his kindly boss out of business, Mike convinces Jerry to help his shoot an improvised, hand-made remake of a wiped Ghostbusters tape, to keep regular customer Miss Falewicz off the scent. Their hilarious ten-minute epic proves popular with their customers, so the two enlist the help of Alma (Melonie Diaz) and Wilson (Irv Gooch) to make more “sweded” takes on classic video-library shelf-stock. Their guerrilla versions of Rush Hour II, Driving Miss Daisy and Robocop, made on a cheap video camera and produced with whatever they have lying around the shop, are a hit, the boys become local celebrities and the rental business is booming.
Although the story flirts with classic clichés (from Abbot & Costello to Blackbeard's Ghost) Gondry is too clever to allow his characters to fall into whimsy. His film, a swipe against globalisation and standardisation, soon settles into a comedy of old-fashioned community values and the eventual triumph of the little guy. It cannot last, of course, and reality bites when a snippy lawyer (Sigourney Weaver) arrives to shut the operation down, citing long reams of copyright law, the same legalese that features at the end of Be Kind's credits, incidentally.
Typically a film with a left-field conceptual base and built around an inherently wobbly structure will start out sturdy and slowly, inevitably, collapse. Here that noticeable second-act fizzling out is reignited by flashes of visual genius and hard-won emotional credibility. Gondry stages a series of uplifting, spirit-affirming moments that are smartly threaded through his themes of creativity, community and doing-it-for-yourself, and combine for a fine, fluent ending.