April 1st is really the perfect day to release “Rubber,” since it feels like one giant prank on anyone curious enough to go see a movie about a psychokinetic automobile tire. In the spirit of the day (and the film), I was seriously tempted to write a 6,000 word rave and then end it with a giant “APRIL FOOLS!” People talk about the line between laughing with or at a movie. You don’t laugh with or at “Rubber.” It laughs at you.
The plot, though weird, sounds intriguing enough. This is that “killer tire movie” you might have heard about touring around the festival circuit from last year. And true to that tagline, a tire does indeed spring to inexplicable life and roll around the American Southwest, picking people off with psychokinetic powers. But writer/director Quentin Dupieux isn’t satisfied with simple quirk: he gets deeper into the quirk, down to the very quark of the quirk, to tell a truly deranged story. While said tire is on its rolling rampage, we’ve also got to contend with frequent asides to a mysterious bunch of strangers who are being forced to watch the tire’s activities through binoculars, along with a strange police officer who is convinced that all the events transpiring in the film are, in fact, events transpiring in a film.
It’s this police officer, Lt. Chad (Stephen Spinella) who enunciates Dupieux’s larger point with “Rubber.” “In the Steven Spielberg’s movie ‘E.T,,'” he says directly to camera in the film’s first scene, “why is the alien brown? No reason.” After listing off several other films that operate on the principle of “no reason,” Chad explains that “all great films, without exception, contain an element of no reason,” and that life itself is filled with no reason. Thus, he decrees by way of introduction, the film we are about to watch is a great ode to no reason. And sure enough nothing in this movie happens for any good reason at all, and I suppose there is a certain refreshing sense of freedom in any movie that can take wild digressions and completely annihilate any sense of logic like this one does.
But more often than not, Dupieux doesn’t explore the outer boundaries of surrealism and experimentation; he simply screws with the audience and labels it surrealism and experimentation. And his “no reason” mantra essentially becomes his excuse for any flaw I could list here, from the dreadful acting, to the bracing stupidity of the characters, to the repetitiveness of the tire’s murderous schtick. Those movies that Chad mentions — “E.T.,” “JFK,” and “The Pianist” amongst others — may have an element of no reason. But that also means they have some element of reason, and “Rubber” simply doesn’t. Then again, maybe it doesn’t need a reason. But a point would have been nice. Testing the audience — even testing their patience — is fine if there’s a point. But Dupieux’s approach specifically negates the possibility of him finding one in the material.
Spinella has a certain demented panache as Lt. Chad and I wouldn’t have minded seeing him in another movie where he could have been the focus of the action rather than the omniscient ringleader of it. His crazy “no reason” monologue marks “Rubber”‘s high point. It’s all downhill from there, which is good for tires but bad for movies. In a world of no reasons, I struggle to find a good one to see this movie. Even on April Fools’ Day.