Whatever else Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber is, it’s certainly unusual. It’s also probably the best movie ever made about a tire, and definitely the best movie ever concerning a killer telekinetic tire. This by itself will probably clue you in that Rubber is very much not a film that’s apt to play to every taste. Watching the trailer for the film with various audiences has settled that question for me. I found it interesting, for example, that the art-house crowd watching Certified Copy responded positively to it, while the action crowd watching Fast Five sat in stone silence—apart from one woman laughing nervously at one gag. I’d say it’s likely to delight viewers who get the joke (or jokes, since this operates on more than one level) and just baffle viewers who don’t. The problem with that assessment is that I’m both delighted and baffled by the film—in about equal measure, and sometimes simultaneously.
The thing about Rubber is that it’s not simply a movie about a killer tire. It’s also a film about movies and how people respond to them and what they expect from them. Beyond that, it’s a critique of audiences and perhaps of mankind in general. And it’s done in a style that probably falls somewhere between Luis Buñuel and Alex Cox. It explains only what it wants to explain, and that’s an approach that may either intrigue you, or simply annoy you.
The film starts with a police car pulling up in the desert. The trunk is opened and a man, Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella, Milk), emerges to deliver a lecture on the idea that all great movies (and some not so great perhaps) contain the element of “no reason”—simply because life itself is full of “no reason.” Is this merely the film justifying itself? Probably not, since it quickly gets tired of its own philosophizing. Then again, it leaves the question of why Lt. Chad is riding around in the trunk of a car, so it’s probably for no reason. Soon a man billed as “Accountant” (Jack Plotnick, who’s probably best remembered as the film nerd who interviews James Whale at the beginning of Gods and Monsters) is handing out binoculars to a ragged audience (including schlock-movie actor Wings Hauser as its most schlock-savvy member) assembled in the desert for—what?
These folks are the audience within the movie and they’re there to watch the film’s story unfold—though they’re also part of the movie, or at least essential to it. Since they’re expected to, they obediently watch the desert through their binoculars—some more patiently than others. Finally, the star, which is to say the tire (billed as Robert), comes to life, taking his first few tentative wobbles until he can effectively roll. Soon, he’s learned the simple delight of crushing things by rolling over them. Then he learns how to kill things in the same manner, but that’s not enough. Enough only comes when he discovers he has the power to explode things with his mind. The audience is increasingly interested as Robert sets out on his travels (all of which are conveniently in range of the audience, which is also something of a comment on movies).
It’s not long before the tire spots a girl (Roxanne Mesquida, Fat Girl) in a convertible and apparently is smitten with her. In any case, he follows her to a rundown motel—going all Scanners on the heads of anyone who annoys him on the way. From here, the movie becomes increasingly strange. And if you’re still with me after that statement, there’s a good chance you’ll find Rubber worth your while. What follows is by turns funny, a little disgusting and ultimately strangely disturbing. Does it all work? Probably not. Sometimes it feels too clever for its own good. Look at it this way, it’s the first movie ever to dare to pose the question, “If a killer tire explodes your head and there’s no one there to see it, has it really happened?” Rated R for some violent images and language.