To explain “Rubber” in full virtually guarantees turning off potential audiences to this bizarre French comedy. It’s a furious run of absurdity that toys with perspective and convention, exploring the relationship between spectators and entertainment while staging an adventure rooted in the film’s strict “no reason” policy, as explained in the opening moments. Oh, and it features a tire that comes to life, rolling around the American southwest on a killing spree using its telekinetic powers. Have I already written too much?
Somewhere in the desert, an audience has been assembled by a nerdy assistant (Jack Plotnick) to observe an event. Armed with binoculars, the opinionated group eagerly waits for the show to begin. Rising up from the sand is an abandoned tire, a black piece of rubber that’s achieved consciousness, soon embarking on a tour of the area, killing almost everything with its macabre mental powers. While dastardly events befall the spectators, one man in a wheelchair (Wings Hauser) refuses to stop watching the show, forcing Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) to continue his pursuit of the fugitive tire, looking to take down the serial killer with help from a French tourist (Roxane Mesquida).
I’m not exactly sure what writer/director Quentin Dupieux has been smoking lately, but it seems to be working. “Rubber” is parade of oddity, a peculiar ode to film genres and the movie business itself, with the director conducting this symphony of strange with a startling confidence, moving the end product away from a simple visual gag to something more complex and delightfully ridiculous. Yes, it’s truly a killer tire film, but there’s more here that Dupieux is eager to share with the viewer, assembling a captivating black comedy that opens with a pronounced monologue questioning movie rationale and concludes with a lampoon of industry sequelitis.
In making a rolling tire the main character, Dupieux assumes a tremendous technical challenge, using clever visual effects to keep the killer on the move for extended tracking shots. The tire breathes when asleep and quakes when angry, summoning its power to pick off roadside animals at first, moving on to humans (head explosions are numerous here) who stand in its way. The tire enjoys hotel rooms and television, takes showers after a long day of dusty rolling, and carries on with human qualities to create a nutzoid submission of Lynchian abstraction and road movie serenity, shot with beautiful desert splendor by the filmmaker.
The idea of watching a tire silently maneuver around the interstate might seem a bit too preposterous, yet Dupieux maintains a compelling rhythm to the picture, employing music to keep the tension alive and sustaining a substantial sense of humor. And there’s this entire subplot with the spectators to help break up the tire antics, investigating manic efforts from Lieutenant Chad and his cronies to kill off the group, silencing their growing narrative demands -- a witty comment on needy moviegoers and the hardships of dramatic invention.
As perhaps expected, “Rubber” runs out of gas about midway through the rampage, exhausting its sense of surprise when the humans start to assume more screentime. Nevertheless, it’s an inventive, silly film when it hits a demented stride, supplying a fascinating blend of bloodshed and ludicrousness, making for a memorable romp with a most improbable killer.