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It’s appropriate that RUBBER is beginning its theatrical
release from Magnet Releasing (following VOD exposure) today, April Fool’s Day.
It’s an 82-minute gag played on, or with, the audience, depending on your point
of view, and a true love-it-or-hate-it movie. It also has the courtesy to let
you know whether you’re going to love it or hate it in the first few minutes.
Following an opening sight gag that’s so good it’s a shame
it’s not really part of the story, one of RUBBER’s characters addresses the
audience and explains the specific satirical tone of what’s about to follow.
This will either make you smile in anticipation or piss you off and have you
bolting to the box office for a refund; this reviewer found it snarkily
amusing, which is pretty much the tone of everything that follows.
RUBBER is the story of a car tire, Robert (as it—he?—is
named in the credits, if not by anyone on screen), which emerges from beneath
the sand near a desert highway and begins rolling along under its own power. It
can do other things under its own power, too, like telekinetically cause
inanimate objects and then living things to explode, cued by Robert vibrating
and the sort of high-pitched cicada chittering on the soundtrack that usually
heralds an attack by giant insects. Robert is also capable of love, or at least
lust; with no way to communicate, it’s hard to tell, but what’s clear is that
it becomes fixated on sexy motorist Sheila (KABOOM’s Roxane Mesquida) and keeps
on truckin’ in her direction, though there’s no explanation of what exactly it
intends to do with her once it catches up to her.
All of this nutty stuff is played with deadpan
matter-of-factness by writer/director/cinematographer/editor Quentin Dupieux in
a manner suggesting an upstart first-timer anxious to make a subversive
impression, though this is actually his third feature (the title of his first,
NONFILM, is a clue to the kind of undercutting of the cinematic form he engages
in here). He’d probably be the first to admit that RUBBER is based on a
one-joke idea, though there are enough details in his delivery to keep the
movie from rolling in place. Many of the laughs derive simply from the
incongruousness of its antihero, like the simple sight of Robert sitting on a
motel-room bed watching TV, or the juxtaposition of this blank, inexpressive
villain and the showy bloodshed it causes, with enough exploding human heads to
fill a boxed set’s worth of SCANNERS sequels.
Speaking of which, among the human supporting cast is Daniel
Quinn, hero of the SCANNER COP flicks (though Dupieux has insisted that his
presence here is a coincidence). Even better, ’80s-movie fave Wings Hauser
makes a much-appreciated return to the genre as a guy in a wheelchair who’s one
of a group of spectators, observing Robert’s progress from afar with
binoculars. This is Dupieux’s device to comment on the relationship between
audiences and what they watch, but he handles it in the same offhand manner as
he does everything else in RUBBER, and if this particular critique isn’t
especially cutting, neither does it become overly pretentious or, er, tiresome.
Stephen Spinella has some fun moments as local lawman Lt. Chad, who becomes our
guide through Dupieux’s strange scenario while also taking an active part in
Though something of a storyline does emerge, RUBBER is
intentionally, determinedly random in its plotting, so the laughs come and go
scene by scene rather than building up comic momentum. Still, if you can get on
its comic wavelength and appreciate Dupieux’s specific wit, you’ll probably be
chuckling throughout. Fans of comically over-the-top gore will enjoy themselves
too, even if some of the FX are pretty ropy—though considering the backhanded
tone of everything around them, you could easily just see that as part of the
joke, and this clearly low-budget project is otherwise technically slick enough
to come across as the work of a professional filmmaker rather than just that of
a prankster fooling around with a movie camera. That’s helpful in appreciating
RUBBER as the work of someone with a little more on his mind than simple
iconoclasm—though the final shot leaves no doubt how Dupieux feels about
Hollywood and its conventions.
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