I was all set to love Rubber, the bizarre little film that has built up a cult following over the course of the past year, even if much of that excitement has centred around the film's premise alone. The idea of a rubber tyre going on a murderous rampage has – like Snakes on a Plane or The Human Centipede – been enough to capture the imagination of viewers and cause the film's reputation to swell by word of mouth alone, whether the people building that reputation it had seen the movie or not. I'm normally wary of such hype, but the opening scene of Rubber was so brilliant it hooked me in immediately. The film opens with a cop (Stephen Spinella) climbing out of the back of a car that has just knocked over a dozen chairs in the middle of nowhere and begins addressing the audience on the concept of "no reason" in the movies.
The cop details several perceived instances of "no reason" from cinema history ("In The Pianist, by Polanski, how come this guy has to hide and live like a bum, when he plays the piano so well? No reason.") and tells us that the movie we're about to watch is an homage to "no reason", before getting in his car and leaving. His assistant, a timid accountant (Jack Plotnick), begins to hand out binoculars to assembled crowd that we have hitherto been unaware of on the hillside. He instructs them to stare look into the distance, and the story of Rubber then begins to unfold in front of this confused audience.
By this point, barely seven minutes into the movie, Rubber had busted the fourth wall so comprehensively I was completely wrong-footed by it. I had expected Rubber to be a cheap and schlocky B-movie affair, but I wasn't prepared for something quite so surreal and arch. Rubber repeatedly defied my expectations in its opening scenes, unfolding in an inventive and weirdly enthralling way, as the rubber tyre protagonist rolled across the desert trying out his newfound ability to kill. He flattens a plastic bottle and scorpion before employing telekinetic ability to explode objects: messily doing away with a rabbit, a crow and finally various human heads. As all of this is taking place, writer/director Quentin Dupieux keeps cutting back to the audience, who comment on the action, bicker among themselves and pick holes in the plot before we do. It's all very clever and original, but it quickly grows tiresome.
There's a gnawing sense that Rubber is a little too in love with its own quirky cleverness, and instead of developing its ideas or its story, the film just continues to play silly games, which grow increasingly ineffective as the film wears on. The freedom afforded to Dupieux by his adherence to the "no reason" principle allows him to indulge in randomness, and while he may feel such randomness is sufficiently entertaining, it means nothing with some sense of imagination or purpose behind it. Scene after scene of a tyre rolling along, spying on a woman as she showers (Roxane Mesquida – what is she doing in this movie?), and blowing up people's heads feels repetitive and boring, and the film has a dead atmosphere, which Dupieux seems incapable of enlivening.
Essentially, Rubber feels meaningless, and 80 minutes is a long time to devote to a single indulgent joke in which every irrationality is explained away with the line, "no reason." It seems all of Dupieux's creative energies went into the unusual premise and that terrific opening scene; an opening, in retrospect, that the rest of the film could never live up to. Rubber is impressively shot and scored, but I can't help feeling that it's nothing more than a potentially brilliant short film blown out of all proportion.
The self-consciously larky tone extends into the interview with Dupieux, who sits opposite a blow-up sex doll to answer questions, and the audio at times appears to run backwards (?), which makes it hard to focus on what he's saying. Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick and Roxane Mesquida are also interviewed and all are very enthusiastic and full of praise for their director, with this whole interview segment adding up to around 25 minutes in total. There's also a trailer and 47 seconds worth of tyre test footage, which seems entirely pointless.
Rubber will premiere in a special Midnight Movies screening at The Ritzy cinema on April 8th. It will subsequently be released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 11th.
Buy Rubber here