Directed by Quentin Dupieux. Starring Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Wings Hauser, Jack Plotnick, Thomas F. Duffy, Ethan Cohn. (2011, R, 85 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 1, 2011
If nothing else, Fantastic Fest 2010 fave Rubber will give the executives at Firestone nightmares for years to come. Directed by the French musician/filmmaker Dupieux (who, by the way, went by the sobriquet Mr. Oizo back when his single "Flat Beats" and his Muppety sidekick Flat Eric were an international pop-culture phenomenon), Rubber is a road movie in the most literal sense. It's also a horror film, a critique of cinema past and present, an absurdist satire of traditional film tropes, an homage to David Cronenberg's Scanners, a comeback for Eighties icon Hauser, and a feature-length avant garde film unlike any other. It is, in effect, a movie-house meta mirror, warped and weird, strange but true (except when it isn't). It's whatever you want it to be, which doesn't necessarily make it a great movie (although it contains moments of greatness), but it is – by virtue of its premise alone – boldly unique. "All great films, without exception, contain an important element of no reason," explains Spinella's deadpan desert cop Lt. Chad in the film's intriguing, fourth-wall-shattering prologue. "In the excellent Chainsaw Massacre by Tobe Hooper," he elucidates, "why don't we ever see the characters go to the bathroom or wash their hands? Absolutely no reason." The answer to the unasked question here is: because life itself is filled with no reason. Fans of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia may sense a kinship here, but that (truly great) film's rain of frogs is nothing compared with Rubber's randomly vicious antagonist, a sentient tire that rolls up out of the California desert and goes on an inexplicable rampage that’s viewed from afar by a binocular-wielding "audience." Homicidal, telekinetic, and jealous (one can only assume) of the less vulcanized life-forms it encounters, this steel-belted psychopath (dubbed "Robert" in the credits) is, in its own wild way, genuinely of and on Kerouac's Road: It is a mad one, mad to live, mad to talk (or, at least, communicate), mad to be saved (by love perhaps?), and "desirous of everything at the same time." And therein lies Rubber's Achilles tread: At nearly an hour and a half, it's a mighty long stretch of two-lane blacktop for a Dada-esque prank that could've been considerably more substantive – not to mention subversive – had it been worn into an explosive 20-minute short. But then, of course, the only place you'd be able to see it would be at festivals or online. That would ultimately defeat what appears to be the whole point of Dupieux's movie, namely, the puncturing of modern cineplex expectations and the clever engagement of the audience by satirical proxy. Kudos, then, to Dupieux, to his very game actors, and most of all to Magnolia Pictures’ subdivision, Magnet Releasing, for having the nerve to acquire and release Rubber in the first place. Because, frankly, they really had no reason to do so.