Rubber review

Can a film about a living, psychotic tyre called Robert really work as a feature film? Here’s Mark’s review of Quentin Dupieux’s exceedingly odd Rubber...

This is a review of a film that opens on Lieutenant Chad, played by Stephen Spinella, pulling up in a police car and snaking through an obstacle course of chairs, taking care to smash every single one to bits. If you wonder why, he then delivers a monologue, seemingly straight through the fourth wall, about the senselessness of cinema.

He finds issue with ET’s skin pigmentation, the assassination of Kennedy in JFK and the sanitary habits of the characters in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but applauds their apparent lack of reason for how close they are to the “no reason” of real life.

Musician and filmmaker, Quentin Dupieux, starts as he means to go on with Rubber, a film that has as little reason as we’re promised, but a certain logical integrity within itself. Not to bury the lead, but it’s also a film in which a tyre called Robert comes to life and begins exploding anything that gets in his way with his psychic powers.

Robert goes through the motions of any serial killer, starting out with random murders, then stepping up to motivated killings, and even at one point stalking and lusting over a sexy young lady. All of this is watched by a bunch of voyeurs that the mad lieutenant has set up in the hills, far away.

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These people watch the action unfold in real time, through binoculars, as if they were watching a movie. Chad then goes and gets involved in the action for their enjoyment, apparently not realising that not everything is put on for the paying audience, because Robert really is killing people.

The premise of a psychic tyre is one that has quite rightly bewildered and intrigued film fans since Rubber was first announced. Like the upcoming Nazis-from-space epic, Iron Sky, or Jeremy Dylan’s recent “based on a film review” spoof, Benjamin Sniddlegrass And The Cauldron Of Penguins, it’s an independent film for which the concept is enough to sell the ticket.

At most, however, the mileage for a sentient tyre, sans the chassis of Christine, is enough to cover a short film. This is a short feature film, but the premise must be fleshed out by the inclusion of the voyeurs and the police. It lasts just over 75 minutes, and for a film of that length, the dryness of the second act should be unforgivable.

And so, Rubber reveals itself, on an elementary level, as a very comical and intellectual parody of monster-centric B-movies and slasher flicks. What the film also presents, however, is the difference that a viewer might find between ‘intellectual’ and ‘smart’; between ‘comical’ and ‘funny’.

It’s entirely subjective, of course, but I personally found Dupieux’s arch approach quite grating at times. It’s also annoying that ,for a film about a tyre that comes to life and starts exploding people’s heads with “his mind”, the logic falls down with Lieutenant Chad’s intentions for the audience.

Although the ironic quality of it works best whenever Stephen Spinella is on screen as the cop who is, by turns, wily and incompetent, there’s only one reason why he has that audience, and that’s for Dupieux to launch a scathing attack on people who enjoy this kind of crap.

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It’s not only condescending, but self-deprecating, which rings false when you consider how the film radiates the director’s self-satisfaction from every frame. The film is always better when focusing on the idea on which we were all sold, rather than on Dupieux’s apparent dislike for his audience.

On the plus side, the third act rescues the film in spectacular fashion. The jokes become funny again, the dialogue is very quotable, and there are some outright shocking turns at a point long after the novelty of Robert’s head-sploding antics has worn off.

Getting used to those antics only happens because of the second act blatantly being a succession of scenes of Robert trundling along, doing more or less exactly the same thing to everyone he meets. But even so, the cinematography and sound design are flawless, and the special effects involved in a tyre independently moving around are seamlessly embedded.

What will make Rubber a difficult watch for some viewers is Dupieux’s assault on their enjoyment of the film. It speaks well of the film he has put together that there is plenty to enjoy anyway, but it’s difficult not to feel a tiny bit alienated.

If not for the archness of it all, it’s still a great idea for a short being drawn out to feature-length, and it suffers slightly for that. Still, if you’ve seen the trailer and you’re looking forward to it, there’s definitely ‘no reason’ why you shouldn’t give it a try.

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3 out of 5