(Originally an IP Movies Review)
Writer and director Quentin Dupieux has crafted a film in Rubber that is both an homage to the ‘70s era of exploitation, and a film unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The way Dupieux manipulates the viewer into caring about an inanimate object is startling. More than that, the cinematography – also done by Dupieux – is breathtaking, and Dupieux sets up every frame with the natural light and setting of the California desert masterfully. Almost to a fault, the beauty of Rubber takes precedence over the tale of a killer tire.
If the story were merely about Robert, a rubber tire who comes alive and discovers he can make things explode telepathically, Rubber would get dull after only a few minutes. There is more to this movie than meets the eye. Rubber introduces us to Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella – Milk, The Jackal) at the beginning of the film. In what appears at first to be a direct address to the viewer, Chad explains that the biggest blockbuster films of all-time all contain a healthy dose of “no reason”, and that this film is an homage to “no reason”. This speech sets up the entire film, and even though it turns out that Chad is addressing a group of people in the desert, the viewer gets an idea of what to expect for the next 80-minutes.
That group of people Chad was talking to is actually a set of moviegoers, gearing up to watch a live performance. The group stands in their pre-selected spot, grabs their binoculars, and begins to watch as Robert, the rubber tire, comes to life. The audience follows Robert on his trail of discovery, from drinking water to crushing cans, all the way to his first explosive encounter. Eventually Robert comes across a beautiful woman (Roxane Mesquida – Fat Girl, The Last Mistress) that becomes the object of his affection. While this continues, the Accountant (Jack Plotnick – Gods and Monsters, Meet the Fockers) makes sure that the in-movie audience is kept in their place.
The story has virtually no point – or “no reason”, like all the great films, as Chad would argue – and there are countless moments that will leave you asking “why”. This seems to be Dupieux’s modus operandi, and he unapologetically delivers these moments in a higher dosage than any other film released in a long while. A perfect example of this is right at the beginning of the movie, before Chad delivers his monologue: the scene shows a load of chairs set up in a zigzag pattern. Moments later, a police car drives up, going slowly, and out of its way to hit each and every chair, destroying it. Once all the chairs are hit, Lieutenant Chad climbs out of the trunk, delivers his monologues, and then jumps back in the trunk. Why? No reason. For some people – like myself – this moment, and all those like it, are hilarious. Others looking for higher art, or simply something with more meaning, won’t enjoy Rubber.
In an off-the-wall movie like this, the acting is generally second to the gags. That is fortunately not the case at all with Rubber, and the acting is nearly on par with Dupieux’s cinematography. Stephen Spinella is brilliant as the oddball Lieutenant Chad, as is Jack Plotnick as the Accountant. These two actors play their characters as realistically as possible, and seeing human characters in this movie within a movie universe works better than one might expect. The supporting cast is equally as wonderful, adding a sense of reality to a world in which a rubber tire can telepathically make living beings explode.
The second half of Rubber focuses less on Robert the tire, and more on dealing with the movie in a movie factor. This is a bit disappointing because Dupieux spends a great deal of time in the first half building the audience’s relationship with Robert. The tire never disappears, but it seems to lose importance in the second half, when even more “no reason” moments are tossed in. This will disappoint viewers who merely want to watch a killer tire movie.
Making heads disappear can be a cool trick, especially when a tire is the culprit, but after the second or third head explosion, it gets repetitive. I would have loved to see Robert telepathically kill his victims in different ways as the film progressed. It doesn’t matter how well one can make a head disappear (and Rubber does it well), it still gets boring after a while.
Rubber is a head trip, and a film that will appeal only to a niche audience. It’s hilarious, smart, and stupid all at the same time. If nothing, Quentin Dupieux knows how to make beautiful pictures, and almost every shot in Rubber is pretty to look at. It’s hard to recommend such a strange film, but anyone looking for a filmmaker who is willing to take risks should give this future cult classic a viewing.