Killer Tyre Movie?
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11th Apr 11
A car tyre roams the desert making people’s heads explode with its telekinetic powers. Oh, but there’s so much more to it than that.
The genre B-movie has had a funny old evolution. Starting off honestly enough as the trashy supporting feature to more respectable productions, it provided simple thrills the audience didn’t need to think about and odd young start a chance to hoan their craft. Jump forward three quarters of a century via being occasionally embraced by the mainstream with monster hits like Jaws and Alien and knowing satires like Scream and today we are left with two camps for the once humble B picture. 1) Wilfully incompetent dreck like Megashark vs. Giant Octopus, Supercroc and Uberlice Meets The Herpes Beast; films aimed at a generation of viewers who say things like “Oh I love that movie. It’s so dreadful!” (the makers and fans of these duds don’t seem to realise that Ed Wood never intentionally made a bad film) 2) The affectionate homage approach as seen in the Grindhouse project and Snakes on a Plane where a lot more effort is put in but an air of pisstakery is still present. Essentially it seems impossible to make a straight B movie these days without a heavy sense of irony and ‘wink wink’ at play. But then again, pretty much ALL movies seem to know they’re movies these days.
Rubber doesn’t so much ‘wink wink’ at it’s audience as pull one of those Anne Robinson numbers that looks like she’s having a mild stroke. It opens with a car zig zagging down a desert road gently knocking over meticulously placed chairs followed by a monologue delivered straight to camera by the town sheriff (Stephen Spinella) stressing the importance of “no reason” in all great movies. At this point those expecting the film about a killer tyre will most likely be scratching their heads, but it gets weirder as we’re then introduced to an audience with binoculars standing patiently waiting for the film to start. This Greek chorus comment on the ensuing action as the tyre (Robert) springs to life and goes on his killing spree. Is this a quirk too far? If you think yes then you’re in trouble cause there’s a lot more where that came from. Make no mistake, Rubber is definitely up itself but the great joy to be had is that it goes so far up itself that it busts through its own spine and manages to come out the other side smiling.
All the deconstruction of deconstructive cinema on show here would be for nowt if it wasn’t for the fact that everything is so well done. With his feature debut, writer director Quentin Dupieux reminds us how good he is at filming inanimate objects (Dupieux is also French techno wiz Mr Oizo, the genius behind Flat Eric and his equally genius Levi ads). Roberts ascension into the land of the living with sand falling down beautifully is given the same gravitas as the first time we see the Brachiosaurus in Jurassic Park or the reveal of Mrs. Bates’ corpse in Psycho. As the tyre slowly learns to roll unaided and harness the telekinetic ability to blow shit up, it’s like a twisted psycho killer version of Bambi. Robert has no face, but we know exactly what expressions he would have and when. He runs the gamut from curious, happy, sad, malevolent and even lustful; the boys got range. Robert has no lines but we can tell that even if he could talk he wouldn’t have to because that “face” is so damned expressive! Seeing him race buoyantly across the gorgeously shot desert backdrop to “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” by The Main Ingredient could be the defining image of the decade.
With a combination of remote control, puppet work, a smidgen of stop motion and some of the best cinematography ever, Dupieux has created a real three dimensional character that you just can’t take your eyes off. And yes, it really is just a tyre. This is a filmmaking feat of epic proportions and really needs to be seen to be believed.
While Robert is clearly the (Michelin) star, he very nearly has the show stolen from him by Spinella who gives one of the funniest deadpan performances in recent memory as a sheriff trapped in a ridiculous situation that he can’t seem to escape from for the entertainment of dunder heads. When attempts to convince his co-stars that what’s going on around them isn’t real fall on deaf ears, he simply gives up, goes on autopilot and coasts hilariously through the rest of the story. The rest of the human cast aren’t too bad either. Roxane Mesquida plays the object of Robert’s affections like a classic icy Hitchcockian beauty and the scene where she questions the misogynistic dialogue she is given makes for a very nice touch. Jack Plotnick is very good as the token suit who answers to a higher power (Dupieux himself?) and brings a subtle and pathetic creepiness to proceedings. It’s interesting to note the striking resemblance Plotnick bares to Spike Jonze considering Jonze’s brain-scrambling collaborations with Charlie Kaufman are clearly an influence on/ target for Dupieux.
The Greek chorus make for good value with a disaster movie’s cast of clichés. We get The Father & Son, The Sassy Black Woman, The Horny Fat Guy, The Teenage Gal Pals etc. There’s also the all important chiselled and grizzled loner in a wheelchair played by 80’s VHS action legend Wings Hauser (so good to see this cheeseball again) in a way that only a man named Wings could pull off. Like everything else in Rubber, these commentators aren’t used exactly how you would expect.
Effects work is pretty solid across the board. Roberts’s exploding head trick is simple and effective. Nothing as elaborate or gory as we’ve seen in Scanners or The Prowler, these murder scenes are played purely for laughs. While they are indeed gruesome, it will only offend the wussiest of wusses. As you’ve probably gathered by now, Rubber isn’t exactly aimed squarely at the hardcore gorno crowd. Those guys will most likely have left after the “no reason” speech.
As Dupieux’s background is mainly in music special mention should go to the excellent score. Working alongside Justice’s Gaspard Auge (oh, yes, Rubber’s got some cred credentials all right), the trendy Frenchmen wisely chooses to avoid anything too tuneful and opts instead for a series of brilliantly judged hums, rumbles and wind noises. Listened to in surround sound it’s astonishingly immersive in a flick that should be incredibly distancing. These sounds also add to the intensity of Robert’s character when his murderous urge takes over. A couple of really groovy dance tracks at the end don’t hurt either.
Mixing B movie exploitation, French New Wave, Kaufmanesque existentialism, Zucker-style spoofery, art-house pretension and a dose of Six Characters in Search of an Author, Rubber certainly isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes. It has already proven quite le Marmite on the festival circuit. To criticise Rubber for it’s avant garde melon-twisting is missing the point. This is a film that had to happen after decades of clever clever riffs on the nature of cinema. It is one giant piss take and as such can feel a little cold, but anyone who has even the slightest interest in movies should give it a go. Go in with an open mind and embrace one of the most surprising, witty and superbly-made head fucks of all time. You’ve got to roll with it, as it were.