I find it hard to believe "Rubber" exists.
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad it does. I just have trouble imagining the chain of events that had to happen to result in a film as singular and enjoyable as "Rubber." This movie's been infamous since the first word of it broke online as "the movie about the tire that kills people," which may be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.
And sure enough, if I was trying to describe this film to someone honestly, I would have to admit that it is indeed the story of a tire that wakes up, becomes mobile, realizes it has telekinetic powers, and starts to kill people. The tire doesn't have a face. It doesn't talk. It's just a tire that rolls around. And even so, it offers up a performance. It is billed as Robert in the closing credits. It is an actor, and part of what kept me riveted for the entire running time of the movie was the work it did, and trying to figure out "the trick".
But the film is more than that. Much more than that. The opening moments of the film feature one of the great set-ups for a movie I've seen in a while, but describing it to you won't really do justice to it. It's a long shot of a car driving up, parking, and a guy getting out and delivering a monologue. And then, once he's finished, he's back in the car and off again. It's completely self-aware, and it sets up the rules for what you're going to watch. Not in a subtle way, either… this is a movie that tells you right up front what it's going to be, and that it's going to be playing with you overtly every step of the way. It is hilarious and weird and smart and stupid all at once, and it's a very unusual example of a broad surrealist comedy, expertly accomplished.
Quentin Dupieux, also know as Mr. Ozio, is a media prankster and filmmaker, and "Rubber" suggests that he's got the ability to deliver more than just a canny gimmick. He's actually made another feature, "Steak," a comedy that I've never seen, as well as an early short film called "Nonfilm" which sounds like the same kind of reflexive meta-humor about the way narrative works that you'll find in "Rubber." It makes sense that we've reached this point in filmmaking. Guys like Dupieux have grown up with so many films at their disposal that archetypes and tropes are sort of second nature to them. In its own way, "Rubber" is as much of a film geek's film as the work of Quentin Tarantino or Edgar Wright.
Stephen Spinella is a great character actor, but he's never really had that role that has cemented him in the public's mind. That may change for any audience that sees "Rubber," though, because he's so good in this. He plays the sheriff of the small desert town where the film takes place, and he's the one who delivers that amazing opening monologue. His character is completely aware of the artificial nature of the film he's in, and that is one of those conceits that is really hard to play properly. And as good as Spinella is, he's matched by every single snarl that emanates from Wings Hauser in his role as a wheelchair-bound spectator to the lunacy of the telekinetic tire. These two represent the two polar forces working on everyone else in the film, with Jack Plotnick playing a guy caught between the two. I can barely even imagine the script for this film, much less somehow communicating the tone to everyone, but Dupieux did it, and the result may well find a home on my year-end list of favorite films of 2010. It was that much fun. "Rubber" went from being a "I'll see that but I don't expect much" to a fest favorite for me, and as weird as it is, there's something wildly accessible about a film as blatantly funny as this.
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