Rubber plays like a 24-hour film festival entry where you’re given requirements of what to include before you start shooting:
Props: 10 chairs, binoculars, a tire
Action: A bird must explode
Line of dialogue: “No reason.”
Rubber is fun. It’s funny at times. It’s very self-aware (to a fault). And it makes very little sense.
The first few scenes of Rubber will probably capture its absurdity better than I’m able to:
-In a long, static take a car veers slowly from the distance towards camera, along a dusty road, intentionally, and for absolutely no apparent reason, knocking over a series of chairs that have been set up in its way.
-Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) addresses the audience – a literal audience of spectators and also us – by quoting films and telling us that even every great picture has a certain element of “no reason.”
-A tire named Robert “wakes up” and discovers that it has the telepathic ability to make things blow up. It also seems to know instinctively that it hates humanity, due in no small part to its first encounter with the human race being when it’s nearly run over by a maniacally-driving trucker (Michael Ross). So what does Robert do? He telepathically blows the truck driver’s head up, obviously.
Rubber is at its most fun when it’s the least logical. Lieutenant Chad realizes that he’s in a film. He’s not happy about it. He tries to kill the spectators with poisoned turkey so he can go home and quit chasing a tire, but one ambitious viewer survives. Therefore, the film goes on. It’s the reverse of your classic “captive audience.” It’s fluff. It’s filler. It’s weak writing. But it’s so ridiculous that it’s hilarious.
Rubber is also fun when it plays on classic horror and cop movie tropes. Chad describing the “murderer” to his fellow officers, the soon-to-be-killed maid discovering the killer tire innocently in the shower – these scenes are referential, tongue-in-cheek, and plain stupid at the same time.
That’s one of the problems with Rubber. If, for a moment, you pull yourself out of the film and look around the dark theater you’re sitting in, you might find yourself thinking, ‘wow, the joke’s on me. I paid $____ to watch a killer tire and have the filmmaker make fun of me.’ And the joke is on you. It’s on me, too. Rubber is not a “so bad it’s good film.” Because it’s not particularly bad or good. It’s like one of those rambling jokes someone tells where it goes on and on forever and you wonder if there will ever be a punch-line. Eventually there is a punch-line but it doesn’t justify having to have listened to the setup for 10 minutes. And then you laugh anyway, because of how much effort went into the joke and how little came out of it.
There’s a little David Cronenberg in here, a little Roger Corman, a little Alfred Hitchcock, a little Don Siegel, a little Jean-Luc Godard, a little Robert Rodriguez…but just a little bit. Because there’s a whole lot of crap.
Apparently one of the knocks on Rubber is that it’s too long. Maybe. I didn’t really think so. The ending drags a bit and there are unnecessary (and unfunny) out-takes during the credits, but it only clocks in at 82 minutes.
My biggest problem with Rubber is that I can’t get a feeling for what kind of a filmmaker Quentin Dupieux really is. There’s some style in here, but mostly the camera stays low (tire-perspective), the lighting feels natural (and is actually rather pretty), and there are long tracking shots as the tire rolls around. Would Dupieux have shot this the exact same way if we were to replace the tire with a human? Is part of his joke that such a ridiculous film looks rather pretty? Is this a filmmaker with anything to say, or are his films more a product of the immediate-laugh, duration-humor ala Youtube? I have no idea. I don’t really care. I don’t know that I’d go see the next Quentin Dupieux film. But I might go see the next film by the guy that made Rubber.