Since premièring out of competition at Cannes 2010, Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber has been referred to more generally as “the killer-tire movie,” one of those concepts, like Snakes On A Plane or The Human Centipede, that inevitably takes on more life as a meme than as a work of art. Yet from the start, it sets about dismantling expectations: The phrase “killer-tire movie” suggests a schlocky, lowbrow horror-comedy, like something Robert Rodriguez or early-period Sam Raimi might have set about making. It certainly doesn’t suggest the arch, Dadaist twaddle Rubber turns out to be.
A feature-length demonstration of the concept of “no reason,” Rubber opens in the California desert with a cop (Stephen Spinella) stepping out of his police cruiser and addressing the camera directly. Ticking off examples from popular films, he talks about the pointless, arbitrary events and details that animate them, like the fact that the alien in E.T. is brown. He then orders his lackey (Jack Plotnick) to hand out binoculars to a crowd of people who will use them to watch what we in the audience understand to be the movie. So down goes the Fourth Wall immediately, and whenever Rubber threatens to become absorbing as a horror-parody, down goes the Fourth Wall again. As for the sentient tire, it comes to life in the desert, discovers it has the power to kill scorpions and bunnies through telekinesis, and then proceeds to stalk human prey. Its primary obsession: a French tourist (Fat Girl’s Roxane Mesquida) lodging at a seedy motel.
Fans of avant-garde music know Dupieux as Mr. Oizo, an icon of the French electro/house scene, and it’s perhaps no surprise that the mesmerizing, multi-layered soundtrack is Rubber’s best feature, enforcing a tone far cooler and more removed than other genre fare. Dupieux also understands horror well enough to frustrate his audience thoroughly, and occasionally with a prankish wit. But the “no reason” conceit barely has enough juice for a short; even at a trim 82 minutes, the film’s arbitrariness—and self-conscious reflections on same—makes it as tedious as it is irritatingly mannered. And while it’s admirably perverse for a “killer-tire movie” to be this snooty, it’s about half as clever as it thinks it is.