– Summary –
Director : Quentin Dupieux
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Roxane Mesquida, Wings Hauser, Ethan Cohen, Charley Koontz, Hayley Holmes, Haley Ramm, Daniel Quinn, Devin Brochu, Tara Jean O’Brien, David Bowe, Remy Thorne.
Approx Running Time : 82 Minutes
Synopsis: A tyre comes to life and starts a killing spree using it’s psychokinetic powers. Chaos ensues.
What we think : Brain-melting meta-film is alternately delightful and repugnant, almost joyously so. Like some bizarre progeny of Stephen King, Tarantino and Rodriguez, Rubber’s illicit thrills will fascinate most fans of crazy, loop-de-loop film-making. Bloody, violent and incredibly hilarious, the film only comes unstuck when Dupieux’s penchant for lengthy rolling shots of the titular tyre threaten to kill the narrative’s momentum. Almost incomprehensible as entertainment, this is one of the most ridiculously stupid and thoroughly hilarious films I’ve seen in years. Well worth a look for those of you with a warped sense of humor.
In a world gone mad, Rubber is like the salve that soothes your soul. No, it’s not a film about condom manufacture, nor is it some kind of bizarre S&M documentary, rather, it’s an out-and-out bizarre adventure into the truly kooky corners of independent film-making, and one that’s really rather clever. Exactly how one might come up with the idea of a sentient car tyre trawling the Californian backwaters, killing human and animal alike for no apparent purpose other than a desire to do so, and get the project funded into a full film, I’ll never understand. Dupieux and his cohort of willing accomplices subvert any genre one might want to place this film into; Rubber isn’t a horror film, nor is it really science fiction, and it’s certainly not a dramatic work – explaining how the movie works and what the story’s about is really going to test my skills as a writer. I’ll give it a shot, but if you get to the end of this review and are still none the wiser, then you’re not the only one. So what makes Rubber work? Does it work? What does it have to say about the human condition, or is it a film which skirts these kinds of story points and simply exists for the sake of itself?
Somewhere in the Californian desert, an unused car tyre comes alive. Able to propel itself along, the tyre learns that it can kill things (starting with a plastic water bottle, then a scorpion, and then a glass bottle – the latter it destroys by exploding it with some form of telekinesis); the tyre encounters a woman driving a car (Roxane Mesquida) and follows her to a roadside motel, where it seems to enjoy perving on her. Meanwhile, a group of people stand away in the distance, watching these events with binoculars, providing a commentary on the events as if they’re paying to watch. Which they are. A sheriff, Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) seems to realize that he’s inside a film, and berates the rest of those around him into the fact it’s all fake. Except it’s not. As the body count mounts, the sheriff and his fellow police officers mount a last stand against the tyre, before it finds its way to the city to cause untold havoc.
If reading the above paragraph doesn’t do it for you, it’s fairly simple: this film is both existential, tangential, and utterly hilarious. Wikipedia lists it as a comedy, and I guess in a warped way, that’s what Rubber is. It’s not gut-busting with jokes, but as a very dark horror-comedy, it works a treat. It’s so meta, at one point the folks watching the tyre’s activities seem to behave as if they’re watching the same film we are. It’s the kind of thing Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind did so very well: made my brain melt with delirious “how did they think of this?” craziness. While the primary focus of the film is on the tyre in question, a lot of the action revolves around several subplots that play out linearly, and non-sequentially, existing both within the context of the film and externally from it, all at the same time. I know, it sounds impossible, but Rubber achieves it.
If you can wrap your head around the central plot, you’re half-way there. The cast, led by an excellent Stephen Spinella (Virtuosity, Ravenous, Milk, and more recently Spielberg’s Lincoln) is backed up by Jack Plotnick (as an accountant-looking dude who seems to be both in on the plot and completely unaware of it at the same time) and Wings Hauser (as a wheelchair bound “watcher”, a member of the crowd following the tyre’s exploits from afar) as well as the very sexy Roxane Mesquida (who appeared in Catherine Brelliat’s The Last Mistress, in 2007) as the woman of the tyre’s affections. None of the cast are major players, but we’re not here to see them. Spinella reminds me of Eric Roberts, for some reason; perhaps it’s his sparkling line delivery and sardonic demeanor throughout. The smattering of actors do decent jobs with their performances – none are terrible, and equally so none are stick-out awesome. The comedy is played as straight as you like, which is good considering all the exploding human heads on the screen.
Dupieux’s visual style is distinctly French. The color palette, the use of focus and framing, the way he obfuscates the motivation of almost all the characters within the film, and ultimately the melancholy aching he imbues the tyre’s life with, just scream European cinema. This is not a Hollywood film, even though it’s hinted at late in the film. The French sense of pacing, style and mise-en-scene work in conjunction with the sparse script by Dupieux, the cinematography by Dupieux, and the uniquely electronic score by, you guessed it, Dupieux (with some help from Gaspard Auge), to draw you into the plight of the characters depicted in a way most Hollywood films can only dream of. For a film with so little conventional action, there’s barely a moment when you’re not hooked by the imagery on the screen. Directorially, Rubber is a delight.
If there’s any flaw to be found with Rubber, it’s primarily in Dupieux’s seeming love of the tyre itself. The film does seem padded by a lot of unnecessary “rolling” by the tyre, as it journeys from place to place, all set to an admittedly sweet soundtrack (which bares an uncanny echo of the Ryan Gosling flick, Drive), and it’s here that the films tends to fall into a lull. These moments are fleeting in their number, but I just wanted the story to get to the next exploding body or gratuitous moment of Tarantino-esque dialogue. Indeed, Rubber’s self-aware inclinations smack of Quentin Tarantino’s glibly wry scriptwork, so much so I had to double-check the name of the dude who’s moniker would be on the screenplay. I guess Dupieux enjoys his Tarantino films, right? Another flavoring I got from Rubber was it’s almost Stephen King-like sense of the bizarre. No doubt the horror master watched this film and wondered why he hadn’t come up with this cool idea first. The idea of such an innocuous real-world object becoming sentient and going about killing folks seems ripped right out of King’s brain – or is that just me? I guess instead of a sentient Buick, Dupieux limited himself to part of a Buick; a tyre.
Rubber is a whole heap of fun, even in spite of itself and even in spite of your brain being unable to comprehend it. The plot isn’t as important as the terrific visuals, the “how did they do that?” eye-popping moments that are as hysterical as they are horrific. The characters don’t matter, the why’s and how’s don’t matter, and in the end I guess even the point doesn’t matter. What matters is that you soak up this sublimely insane, completely hilarious, utterly magnificent low-budget freakshow and enjoy it for what it is. A film about a tyre that kills things.