If you see only one film this year about a psychokinetic tire that roams the dusty American southwest exploding the heads of those get in his way, it should definitely be Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber. An audacious horror comedy that is at once a wildly recast send-up of trashy B-movie slasher flicks (the killer tire lurks ominously, like a squat, polyisoprene cousin of Jason Voorhees) and a didactic, philosophical commentary on storytelling tropes, the film, love it or loathe it, is a one-of-a-kind must-see for fans of outré filmmaking.
When it starts out, Rubber seems at once more comedic and more expressly a cinematic exercise. Dupieux conceives of a framing device whereby a policeman (Stephen Spinella) lectures a collected (surrogate) group of folks on the intrinsic lack of reason in film narratives, and then passes out pairs of binoculars. As this bickering audience (Rubber‘s own Greek chorus) watches and develops their own opinions on the skulking tire, their analysis magnifies the powers of their subject, and helps lend the movie itself a certain sheen and added pop-academic significance.
The tire, meanwhile (tabbed Robert in the credits), rises from its desert slumber and, like a surly teenager, begins to test the limits of its power, rolling over and crushing a plastic bottle and scorpion before momentarily meeting its match in a glass beer bottle. Soon it’s stalking a girl (Roxane Mesquida), and doing worse.
There isn’t much doubt that its ending, a pseudo-intellectual sop, sputters out with far less grace and cleverness than its makers imagine. And other amusing tidbits — like the aftermath of a killing spree when Robert witnesses the rubber Holocaust-equivalent of a tire bonfire on television — are sort of half-formed. But Rubber is bold, and engaging throughout, which is more than one can say about much Hollywood product. (Magnet, unrated, 82 minutes)