★★★ out of ★★★★★
Grindhouse meets the French New Wave in this oddball dark horror comedy about a sociopathic automobile tire that kills people with psychokinetic powers. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
As weird as that premise may be, the movie is actually weirder. And, it’s actually better than the premise sounds. My first thought was that this was going to be like a Troma production or Sharknado, something that knew it was a trashy movie and wallowed in its trashiness. Oddly enough, though, Rubber has a point to get across and it shoots for surreal and absurd rather than slapstick. Director Quentin Dupieux has, willingly or not, made a film that Jean-Luc Godard or Francoise Truffant would have applauded. It’s a post-modern self-aware very meta-movie, that steps past the fourth wall and back again and even rotates the fourth wall a bit.
The introductory scene is an absurdist narrative, where a cop car runs a gauntlet of folding chairs along a California desert road, tapping them and making them collapse. A cop, Chad (Stephen Spinella) then climbs out of the trunk of the car and starts monologuing to the camera about the history of film, and how many decisions are made for “No reason”. This sets up the film to let you know that this film is not going to make any logistical sense. And then, it is revealed that Chad is not actually addressing the viewing audience (though he is) but rather an assembled crowd who has gathered to watch… an experience? A film production? Depieux uses this crowd to be his Greek chorus, often chiming in during the film to comment on the proceedings. (This is the rotation of the fourth wall… and now I realize that I’m getting wrapped into the overly thinky nature of this movie! Help! Help!) Chad’s production assistant (Jack Plotnick) hands out binoculars to the crowd, and we are ready to begin in earnest.
Act I opens with a discarded half-buried tire wriggling itself upright out of the desert dust, and begins to explore its newfound environment. This is Robert. It has a name? Sure it does! For no reason! We soon realize, as Robert manages to poke and prod around the desert floor, that it is a destructive little bugger. It smashes bottles and cans and eventually manages to blow up a rabbit with a strange psychokinetic power. Poor bunny! Depieux could have used a much tighter edit here… the tire roaming the desert is only interesting for so long. By the time the rubber finally manages to find asphalt, he sees a passing Volkswagen being driven by the lovely Sheila (Roxane Maxida) and the tire manages to kill the engine of the car. The tire is smitten! But before the tire can approach the stalled car, it gets whopped by a passing truck.
The film then shifts locales to a desert motel-gas station, where both the young woman and the trucker have arrived…. soon to be followed by the tire, driven by lust and revenge. The tire manages to occupy a motel room, as it settles in to watch television and prepares itself for a stalking Sheila and killing anyone who interferes. It’s rather strange how you can come to that conclusion given that the tire really can’t act at all… but you do. Interlaced with the nefarious tire plans, Sherrif Chad, and his henchman/production assistant plan to try and kill off the Greek chorus, as by doing so, will return the world to normalcy, ending the “film”. But the plot gets foiled, leaving the tire animated and angry. Don’t ask why. It’s the “No Reason” effect in full.
This forces Chad and his deputies to team up with Sheila to corner and deal with the killer tire. There are a number of random people who end up getting their heads blown off their shoulders by Robert, hell-bent for destruction after “seeing” a bunch of tires being put thrown into a bonfire. The tire must be stopped! The plot to take down the tire ends up with a hostage decoy, and the movie gets very meta, using a surviving chorus member to intervene and complain that the idiot sting operation is taking too long and doesn’t make any sense.
And there you have it. The movie really takes too long and doesn’t make any sense. It’s like the Saturday Night Live skit that is funny but goes on too long. There are some really fantastic moments in Rubber, but I could have used more. My favorite absurdist moment involves a stuffed alligator. Wait for it! Totally out of nowhere. It really feels like Depieux had a 45-minute movie and ended up stuffing in another 45 minutes in to make it a feature-length film. The chorus also feels like an apology to the viewers, in a way that the director needed a way to convey his thought process outside of the plot. But it’s also remarkable that Depieux knows all this, and he celebrates it. Through this absurdist lens he’s showing his French film heritage. I’m not an expert on the French New Wave, and nor do I want to be. I find those films to be preachy and hyper-intellectual, but their deconstruction of a traditional film narrative has found its place in film culture. Tarantino, anyone? But the longer I linger on that, the more I sound like a film school snob, but I never went to film school, and I like this film more for its gory grindhouse elements than I do its intellectual rigor.
As a reflection of a director’s thought process, this movie reveals a lot. He’s telling you his thought process in the meta commentary by Chad and by the Chorus. It’s a mashup of familiar films. It’s a hybrid of Scanners, The Hitcher, Weekend, Feast, and a Bridgestone Tire commercial. The movie isn’t as dumb as you think it would be, but it’s not as smart as Depieux thinks it is either. Too clever for his own good, and yet still fun. If you see this movie, you will not forget it.
Rubber is Rated R and is available for rent on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube.