You heard that right ... this film is about a killer tire on the loose. The piece of rubber even has a name: Robert. Though it sounds pretty insane, every now and than a film like this does pop up. Not too long ago I watched Battle Heater Kotatsu (1990), a film about a killer table stove. These things just happen I guess. What's really crazy about Rubber is that Dupieux found the capital and people to turn this into something more than a juvenile, semi-amateurish feature length film. Now there's something that completely boggles my mind.
While the name Quentin Dupieux might not ring a bell, maybe his moniker Mr Oizo does. He's the electro/trash producer that made fame with Flat Eric (the yellow, head-bopping puppet) when it was first featured in a Levis commercial. He kept busy producing electro over the years, now he's also ventured into the world of film, Rubber being already his second feature (in 2007 he made Steak but that one completely fell off the radar). He did most of the work on Rubber by himself, granting him writing, music, cinematography and even editing credits. I guess he likes to keep control over the end result.
While the trailer and all other advertising material might have you believe this is a film about a killing tire, it's only half the truth. Robert is definitely the main attraction, but there's a whole absurdist addition of a live audience following the "film" from a distance (using binoculars to get a better view). A welcome diversion as 70 minutes of rolling tires would've been a bit much.
Visually Rubber turned out to be much better than I expected. There are a fair few typical genre shots here, showcasing Dupieux's love and knowledge of the genre, most notably a "behind-the-back" shot when the tire is looking into a hotel room. Little visual references like that add something valuable to the overall feel of the film. Rubber also convinces on a technical level. While Robert's traveling shots might not seem too impressive at first, it's actually quite an accomplishment to move the tire through these rough surroundings in such a believable way, even playing around with the lighting of the sun in the meantime. Good stuff.
The soundtrack too is pretty cool. Awesome sound effects whenever Robert is blowing stuff up using his telekinetic powers, some very nice tunes throughout and even some lovely misplaced music just for the fun of it. Dupieux's background in music is obvious, of which he makes good use. The entire soundtrack could've been a little tighter as a whole, but the result is more than satisfying.
The acting is the only really weak part of the film, not surprisingly the part where Dupieux had the least control. Stephen Spinella does a decent job, the speech at the start of the film is quite unforgettable indeed, but the rest of the cast does very little with what they are given. For what is basically a deadpan comedy, Dupieux should've picked a cast with a bit more talent for comedy. Guess he still needs some training when it comes to pushing his actors in the right direction.
Rubber's promotional material is somewhat misleading in the sense that it tries to sell the film as pure nonsensical pulpy fun, while the actual film is actually much more related to deadpan comedy heroics like Dai-Nipponjin. The humor comes from slow pacing and the somewhat serious approach towards its actual core story (a tire coming to life). Don't expect to see much beyond that in the way of pulp, because you might leave the film terribly disappointed.
The extra abstract layer is fun but could've been much better if Dupieux had used a more experienced cast. While the absurdity of the whole situation is pretty ingenious, the humor comes in stilted dialogues and badly acted scenes, doing absolutely no justice to the ideas behind it. A real shame, certainly considering the first monologue by Spinella and the absolute potential it held.
No doubt Dupieux's film is going to reach a substantial audience based on its trailer and some good hype alone. But if you go in expecting what the promo material seems to promise chances are you'll leave a disappointed man. Go with the flow of the film and you'll see that there is a lot more to Rubber than a tire going loose on a killer spree. Hidden behind some subpar acting work is an accomplished little abstract comedy that delivers more than it promises.