A movie about a sentient, psychokinetic killer tire? You had me at hello.
Unfortunately, Rubber—released on VOD in February and then in select theaters 1 April—is not nearly as entertaining as its premise suggests. Though the tire explodes people’s heads, Rubber is tedious instead of ridiculous, not nearly the movie it should have been.
Through some unexplained phenomenon, a tire comes to life, rolls around, discovers the ability to blow things up with just by thinking about it, and begins stalking a sultry young female traveler (Roxane Mesquida). As the tire also kills a series of people, the police catch wind of the murder spree and try to stop it.
This high concept proves difficult for writer/director Quentin Dupieux to stretch into a feature length movie. The story of the tire—named “Robert” in the credits—has an oddball sensibility that is often fun to watch. (Though potential victims and pursuers don’t call the tire by name, they do refer to the tire as “he” and “him”: apparently, serial killers are male by default.)
The tire is a strangely engaging character with whom you might identify, a process helped by point-of-view shots. The tire pulls himself out of the dirt, shakes himself off, and falls flat on his metaphorical face. A scrappy sort, he picks himself right up and keeps rolling, eventually able to negotiate the rough desert landscape. Exploring his surroundings with his newfound consciousness, he hones his telekinetic powers by blowing up a beer bottle, a rabbit, and then a crow. The stalker tire goes on to exact revenge on those who wrong him—like a guy in a pickup truck who runs the tire off the road, and a hotel maid with the gall to think that a tire is not a legitimate guest.
But if these episodes are goofy and decently paced, the film is less interesting when it cuts away from the tire to a gimmicky framing device that involves a group of spectators in the desert watching events unfold. They mimic an audience in a movie theater, some talking amongst themselves, others arguing or shushing each other, just like the crowd at your local metroplex. Increasingly, this element feels forced and unnecessary.
Initially, the watchers are a diversion, a way to comment on the main action. But their comments are obvious, nothing you won’t have thought of yourself, and soon you get the distinct impression that Dupieux doesn’t imagine you can figure it out on your own. As the viewers take up more and more screen time, Rubber becomes more about them than the tire. At one point, they’re all poisoned, so the people acting out the movie can go home and be done. However, one man in a wheelchair (Wings Hauser) survives, and the show, as they say, must go on, much to the chagrin of Lieutenant Chad (Steven Spinella), who awkwardly tries to convince the people in the movie that they are, in fact, in a movie.
Despite or because of his efforts, you may be tempted to look for meaning in Rubber. It begins with Spinella directly addressing the crowd of spectators, ostensibly you, in the theater. He states that in every movie in history, things happen for “no reason,” and that the film you are about to watch is an homage to “no reason.” He’s right. As the tire’s tale becomes more bizarre and morbid, Rubber is quite the disappointment.