There’s a rich tradition in horror films of cars, puppets and machinery coming to life, so the idea of a psycho tyre with telepathic powers is fundamentally no more ridiculous than a sentient 1958 Plymouth Fury (Christine), ventriloquist's doll (Dead Silence) or computer (Demon Seed). However, Rubber is a ridiculous film but often in the best possible sense, positing as it does a day in the life of a tyre called Robert, a day in which he mashes some heads, meets a girl and falls in love.
Rubber is not particularly substantial, either in running time or in content, merely offering the vision of a film maker who wanted to see what would happen if a tyre woke up one day, became self aware, and possessed the ability to make bunnies explode. But that idea alone, especially in the early parts of the film, frequently proves rather beguiling. It’s a strangely touching experience to watch Robert awake and gradually discover his powers and as he rolls unsteadily through a dusty, sunlit landscape, there's a joyful sense of exploration as he begins to find his…erm…feet and get a sense of what he's capable of.
Director Quentin Dupieux delivers some stunning cinematography in the first half hour as well as utilising some subtle but effective remote control chicanery to bring the tyre to life (Robert’s opening scene evoking childhood memories of Bambi. I kid you not). So having set the scene, the moment when Robert joyously rolls across the desert to the tune of "Just Don't Want to Be Lonely" by The Main Ingredient is moving, funny and absurd all at once. And after he sets off in pursuit of Sheila (Roxane Mesquida), a young woman he spots driving past him at the roadside, we see him in a variety of situations (watching TV in a motel room, taking a shower, looking at himself in a mirror) that are imbued with no small degree of charm. It may sound bizarre but it works and the movie is at its most engaging when we’re following the adventures of the tyre.
However, it is in those scenes when the action moves away from Robert that the film often falls flat, despite the high levels of absurdity being maintained. Rubber nails its colours to the mast from the off as a police car is seen driving along a road strewn with chairs. Taking care to twist and turn in order to hit each one, the car then pulls up and a Police Lieutenant (Stephen Spinella) climbs out of the boot, proceeding to give a lecture to camera about how things happen in movies for ‘no reason’. Although you may take issue with his thoughts on JFK, it is then revealed that he is actually addressing a group of spectators stood behind the camera who are there to observe the events of the movie unfolding through their binoculars. And so they witness the birth of Robert and his subsequent actions, all the while providing a running commentary on the story as it unfolds.
The problem with such moments is that they often feel too experimental, as though the script was being written on the hoof and ideas were occurring moments before they were filmed, and the result is that the film then feels laboured and uninspired. Dupeiux’s assault on the fourth wall includes some amusing ideas, such as a man being told to stop filming a bootleg copy of Robert’s exploits and a police chief who knows that all the other characters are just actors in the movie despite their reluctance to believe him. But the script is neither inventive or amusing enough to build on these ideas and so struggles to sustain them, and you feel that Dupeiux isn’t nearly as interested in these people as he is in the tyre. As a result neither are you.
Overall though Rubber is a diverting and original film, a B movie premise executed with art house sensibilities. Some have seen it as an attack on a specific film genre and its audience but instead it could be seen as belonging to a long absurdist tradition in which Depeiux seems content to have some fun. Although it is neither the laugh out loud comedy nor the rabble rousing crowd pleaser that you might expect, the technical artistry on display, combined with a charismatic lead, delivers a film that just about manages to avoid outstaying its welcome.
Extras: Not much to write home about. Just four interviews with Director and cast (one of which see Depeiux being interviewed by a blow up doll), some very brief special effects test footage and a trailer.