REVIEW: The Joke's on Us in Rubber, a Movie About a Killer Tire
You've really pulled off a triumph, of sorts, when the most charismatic character in your movie is a discarded tire. But Rubber, a quasi-exploitation horror film directed by French DJ, record producer, filmmaker and raconteur Quentin Dupieux, stops just short of making that tire a star. This is no ordinary tire; it has telekinetic powers and a great deal of pent-up anger. But Dupieux's camera loves that tire only the littlest bit. He's more interested in all the things that make his movie uninteresting, chiefly its faux-intellectual, thimble-deep exploration of audience's expectations and willingness to be duped.
Rubber opens with a decidedly unphotogenic nerd (Jack Plotnick) standing amid a scrubby landscape near a dirt road, his outstretched arms laden with binoculars. Suddenly, a sheriff arrives on the scene in a most unusual fashion (he's played by Stephen Spinella) and delivers a monologue to camera about how, in movies, lots of things happen for "no reason" and still, we accept them. The subtext is, those of us who love and believe in movies are dupes. After all, we've just sat ourselves down to watch a movie about a killer tire, haven't we?
It turns out that those binoculars are about to be distributed to an "audience," consisting of viewers of all ages; they'll stand on a ridge and watch as the "movie" unfolds. (Rubber is a movie filled with quotation marks, so I'm going to take the liberty of using them too.) The story they'll see involves a tire that slowly rouses itself from a junkyard and, after triumphing over a few random objects (a plastic bottle) and critters (a scorpion) by rolling over them, realizes that it can kill bigger prey the same way Amy Irving explodes John Cassavetes' head in The Fury, albeit in a far less operatic fashion.
This is the little demon tire that could, one that actually has a gender -- it's consistently referred to as "he." The scenes in which he slakes his thirst for blood and stalks a tough gal in short shorts (Roxane Mesquida) have some wit and a dash of truckstop grandness. The finest moment in Rubber is the one in which our fine vulcanized friend follows his pretty vixen target right to the open door of her motel room, where he peeps in -- with his invisible eyes -- and watches as she strips down and slips into the shower. Dupieux -- who wrote and shot the film himself, and also did the editing -- has some cinematic good sense. He knows how to frame a lone, rolling tire in a desolate landscape so that we're convinced we're actually watching something dynamic. He nods, in particular, to '70s exploitation cheapies, and his approach is sometimes playful and affectionate.
When it isn't doggedly instructional, that is. Rubber could have been a modest horror novelty, a wicked, malevolent version of The Red Balloon. But Dupieux apparently didn't think the exploits of a killer tire would be enough to sustain a movie, and so he had to overinflate his picture with puny ideas masquerading as big ones: The players try to break the fourth wall and step out of the movie, only to realize they can't -- it's the equivalent of Dupieux waving his hand in front of our faces and intoning ghoulishly, "What's fiction and what's reality?" The "audience" in the movie is first starved and then killed with a poison turkey, though they apparently deserve their fate because they descended upon the bird like a horde of crazed zombies. Dupieux's idea, apparently, is that movie audiences are so stupid they'll consume anything, and the more tickets he sells for this arch little piece of junk, the more he'll be proved right. If I were you, I'd refuse to give him that satisfaction.