Film: Rubber ***
Release date: 11th April 2011
Running time: 82 mins
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Roxane Mesquida, Ethan Cohn
Reviewer: Adam Wing
I’m going to avoid lazy car related puns on this one, because a film as original as Rubber deserves a little more creativity than that. Just when you think you’ve seen everything that the movie industry has to throw at you, along comes a road movie that dares to cast a car tyre as the lead character...
Quite what French director Quentin Dupieux (Mr. Oizo of 1999’s Flat Beat fame) was smoking when he came up with the concept remains to be seen, but there’s a good chance you’ll never experience anything like it again. Just for the record, Dupieux’s previous movie was called Steak - kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it.
Rubber stars Stephen Spinella as Lieutenant Chad, a smug police officer that appears to be in on the joke - whether or not you will be is still open to debate. Talking to a group of spectators, not to mention the viewers at home, Chad informs us that movies are overflowing with moments of 'no reason', and that the film they are about to witness is a homage to that very fact.
An accountant (Jack Plotnick) directs the audience's attention - through the use of binoculars - to an abandoned tyre in the desert. Just when the spectators are getting restless, the tyre comes to life and makes its way across a deserted highway. Watching the tyre learn how to roll on its own is surprisingly affecting, emitting the kind of feeling a parent must experience when they wave their child off to school for the first time.
It soon becomes apparent that the tyre loves to smash things up, but a discarded bottle proves problematic until he (we’re going with he, you’ll soon discover why) develops psychic powers. Why does he develop psychic powers? No reason of course. Its not long before the tyre moves on to more challenging feats of devastation, like blowing up rabbits and bursting small birds with the power of his mind.
Events take an unusual turn when a beautiful woman (Roxane Mesquida) passes by in her car. The tyre becomes infatuated by Sheila and begins to follow her, killing off anything and everything that gets in its way. If that wasn’t strange enough, the tyre likes nothing better than to watch TV, and can often be found unwinding in the shower before chilling out to some step-aerobics - Quentin Dupieux would certainly make for an interesting dinner guest, that’s for sure.
The first time I saw the trailer for Rubber I thought it was a joke, and that’s exactly how Dupieux plays it throughout. The spectators - including two film buffs, a father and son and two whiny girls - provide commentary, and Lieutenant Chad spends the majority of the movie convincing his colleagues that they’re all part of the joke. This is where things get a little complicated, because as strange as it may seem, the murderous tyre is not the most outlandish part of the plot.
The only way Chad can do this is by ensuring that nobody from the outside world is looking on, but when an attempted poisoning goes wrong, he is left with the unwanted attention of a man in a wheelchair (Wings Hauser) who has nowhere better to be. Lieutenant Chad is forced, somewhat reluctantly, to track down the rampant rubber tyre with murder in mind, even though he thinks its as insane as the rest of us - and the reason for this you might ask? There is no reason of course.
Impressive cinematography and enjoyable performances lift Rubber from the depths of B-movie oblivion, and I’m temped to say that the curiously compelling concept is enough to see you through, but it will definitely push your patience to the limit. The film works best without the spectators, when we are encouraged to embrace the absurdities of a rogue rubber tyre letting loose on the world. The addition of an audience is quite frankly bizarre, helping to explain the complexities of Lieutenant Chad’s opening monologue, but failing to add anything approaching genuine humour.
That’s the biggest problem with Rubber, save a few standout moments; Quentin Dupieux’s cinematic oddity fails to deliver the big laughs expected of a film so out of whack. Who would’ve thought that the sight of a rubber tyre blowing people up would get boring, but the lack of creativity in the killing is undisputable. The opening ten minutes are undeniably impressive, but once you get used to the fact that you’re watching a rubber tyre that thinks its human, there precious little else to keep you hooked.
A bonkers concept is all well and good, but Rubber’s greatest success is also its biggest undoing. Like an abandoned car tyre, Rubber has nowhere else to go, and Quentin Dupieux’s oddly amusing horror story deflates as soon as the air of invention is lost. There is a comical twist to be found in the closing moments, and the final scene pokes fun at the mainstream, but there’s a good chance you’ll tire of Rubber’s eccentricity long before that. Fun in small doses but lacking in tread, Rubber intrigues, captivates and infuriates in equal measures. It’s not as clever as it thinks it is, but there is fun to be had if you’re willing to ignore the occasional wrong turn.
The best killer car tyre movie ever made? Quite possibly, but then, does it really matter either way? Why would you not want to watch a movie so intentionally bizarre? As Lieutenant Chad might say, there really is no reason.