You know that guy (or girl) in college who’d come up with all these great ideas but then always find a profound philosophical reason not to follow through on them? That’s Rubber, a notional B-flick about a homicidal Goodyear tire stalking a small town girl (Roxane Mesquida) or perhaps a deconstructionist farce about an invisible filmmaker sending an accountant (Jack Plotnick) to slaughter his own audience in the desert. Either storyline might have piqued my interest if only the movie had committed to it, but writer-director Quentin Dupieux turns out much too avant-garde for that.
Instead, Rubber opens with an amusing but ultimately fatal speech by Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella). “All great films, without exception, contain an important element of no reason,” he explains, though his examples strike me as dubious at best. For instance, the reason Szpilman in The Pianist (2002) has to spend his life in hiding despite his great talent is because it sucked to be Jewish during Nazi occupation: kind of a no-brainer. More to the point, the whole prologue comes off a bit like Jerry Seinfeld pointing out the fiscal benefits of smaller packages before asking, “What’s the deal with airplane peanuts?”
Absurdity, or “no reason”, is not tantamount to depth. Rather, we get intellectual satisfaction from its insertion into a seemingly purposeful narrative. Take, for example, Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End (2012), the way it tricks us into expecting a meaning where there is none, leaving us in a state of haphazard reflection. In contrast, by declaring itself a tribute to the “no reason”, Rubber spoils its own central joke, providing the ultimate reason for every instance of “no reason”.
In fact, for a movie that claims to celebrate the absence of purpose, Rubber spends an awful lot of time justifying its protagonist’s every action. No, we never learn how Robert the Rubber (it’s a bad French pun) gains consciousness. However, the extended sequence of our cylindrical villain crushing small animals goes a long way to explain its bloodlust; the shot of it staring at its own reflection gives us a sense of its intense self-hatred; and the scene in which it watches labourers set fire to other tires provides a clear motivation for its final killing spree.
Heck, a kid even screams out, “I think he just blew up that bottle with his mind!” after Robert blows up a beer bottle with its mind. Yes, the tire has got telekinetic powers, which it uses over and over again to splatter brain matter across the screen. I chuckled the first time, but, by the fourth or fifth victim, I started wondering why Rubber, a modern slasher with a wheel-shaped antagonist, doesn’t feature a single, creative scene in which someone gets rolled over, bounced upon, or even carted to death. I know, I know: “no reason”.
Still, a couple of fanciful kills might have helped fill the runtime, sparing us the subplot with the snarky viewers. Don’t get me wrong: the scenes in the desert have their charm, especially those that cross over with the main plot. I laughed out loud at the bit when Chad realises he’s still got to hunt down the tire because one of the spectators still lives. However, consider the accountant’s monotonous murder attempts. First, he brings contaminated turkey meat. Then he wheels out a cart of poisoned gourmet dishes. Guess what finally outdoes him. Hint: it’s a four letter word that starts with an “F” but rhymes with “Oh, come on, dude!”
It’s as if Dupieux had come up with two viable high concepts but lacked the patience to see either through to the end. What’s more, the two premises play against one another, with the killer tire plot relying on a deadpan approach and the accountant storyline asking us to take everything as a joke. Rather than address the issue (or at least drop one thread to streamline the narrative), Rubber does a little postmodern jig and shouts, “No reason!”, hoping it’ll do. Maybe it will, but I, for one, believe that even B-movies deserve a minimum of conviction.