It could have been a gimmick, a movie so bad it’s good, but Quentin Dupieux’s “Rubber,” about a killer tire, is no hit and run.
Strangers gather on a desert hillside scanning a junkyard through binoculars.
A small-town sheriff steps from the trunk of his car and delivers a bogus monologue about the ‘no reason’ factor in all great movies.
Then … it happens…
In the heart of the junkyard, something moves … a half-buried tire rises out of the sand, pauses, and rolls away.
Its first victim, a plastic soda bottle, is squashed beneath its tread. But a glass bottle poses a quandary. Rolling back, the tire pauses, quivering with telepathic powers that shatter the glass.
As the tire terrorizes a remote desert community, the distant onlookers function as Greek chorus, commenting on the action.
Director Dupieux delivers not just an intellectually-compelling comedy, but a purely visual narrative as the tire careens through genre-movie conventions.
“Rubber” is a keen cinematic exercise, driven mainly by shot selection and editing. Dupieux keeps dialogue to a minimum, using it not to propel his story but to comment on the action in an ironic, removed fashion.
Stephen Spinella unconvincingly fills the role of Lt. Chad, whose insistence on the artificial nature of the proceedings is provocative at first but gradually grows tiresome.
The same is true of the Accountant’s efforts to poison the Greek chorus. As portrayed by Jack Plotnick, his scenes are amusing but leave the audience impatient to return to the tire.
More impressive, however, is Dupieux’s ability to imbue his tire with human attributes. Or rather, the audience does.
It is easy to see when the tire is mad, playful or bored.
It likes to watch auto racing on TV, no doubt proud of its fellow tires as they strive for glory.
It reminisces in a mirror about its recent transgressions: the bloodshed, the loneliness, the terror, and the good old days on the front-right axle of a Japanese import.
“Rubber”’s anthropomorphic tire is made menacing by context. It takes on a life of its own in a subversive homage to countryman Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 children’s classic, “The Red Balloon.”
Dupieux’s previous movies include “Steak,” an off-beat sci-fi comedy about conformity, and the absurdist “Nonfilm,” about the non-making of a non-movie. His alter ego is musician and record producer Mr. Oizo, a staple of the Parisian club scene.
“Rubber” is his biggest film to date. A buzz-generator on the festival circuit, it might be the movie that tips Dupieux’s career, putting him on the path of friend and collaborator Michel Gondry; a path that could make going to the movies a little more interesting.
**** (out of four)