Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Movie Review: Rubber

Rubber is quite possibly the finest example I've seen of a film that eschews expectations merely for the sake of eschewing them...and why that doesn't usually work.

Directed by French musician Quentin Dupieux, better known by his stage name Mr. Oizo, Rubber is a horror/comedy in the *cough* fine tradition of Leprechaun, Jack Frost, and other tongue-&-cheek horror flicks from the 90's. Like those films, its main gag comes from replacing the usual monster or serial killer with something utterly nonthreatening. Normally these movies feature either monstrous versions of normally friendly mythical figures (leprechauns, Santa Claus, etc) or anthropomorphic inanimate objects made animate (toys, snowmen, etc). Rubber takes this a step further by going the inanimate object route but rejecting the anthropomorphic aspect. Tragically, the films central menace is in fact not a living, homicidal condom as one might snidely discern from the title. No, here our killer is a tire. A tire that kills you with its mind. It's Scanners meets The Brave Little Toaster.

Now with a premise that revolves around a sentient tire blowing up people's heads with telepathic powers, one would expect a uninhibited, utterly insane, anything-goes film. Surprisingly, this is not the case. Dupieux instead goes for a very subdued, dark comedy, something like what might happen if you asked Wes Anderson to make a horror film.

As with most horror spoofs, Rubber makes every effort to be self-aware. Fortunately it does not take the lazy Scream approach of playing everything straight & inserting a Greek chorus character to occasionally wink at the audience. On the contrary, the film's level of self-awareness breaks the fourth wall up to and including making the audience actual participatory characters. The film literally begins with an actual audience being bused out to the desert to watch the events unfold through binoculars, as if the "movie" was an on-location real-time play. Said audience provides commentary throughout the film and even eventually interacts with the actual actors. In fact, it is arguably this unique approach to the fourth wall, rather than the killer tire, that is the most notable aspect of the film.

You're probably wondering how exactly they explain the presence of a living tire. Well, Dupieux makes sure to nip that petty request for reasoning in the bud the moment the film starts. The movie's basic philosophy and universal answer to any & all inquiries is simply "no reason". The opening of the film features a monologue by veteran stage actor Stephen Spinella (easily the highlight of the cast), listing plot points and aesthetic choices in famous films that have no obvious reasoning behind them, and then declaring Rubber to be a "tribute to the 'no reason'".

So clearly Dupieux has no intention of explaining any of the bizarre occurrences transpiring within his story, and as such asks his audience to accept the film on its own terms. The problem is that asking your audience to accept that the point of your story is that it has no point is a serious gamble, because if you fail to entertain, the film is a complete waste of time for everyone involved. Even if your goal is simply to have fun, no film is truly aimless, so if Dupieux wanted to simply make people laugh, his success is debatable. This style of comedy has never appealed to me, so I cannot accurately gauge whether others will find it funny, but for me, the premise was far funnier than the delivery. To the film's credit, it does not rely entirely on the visual absurdity of a killer tire for its comedy, and it is certainly a unique experience as well as a fascinating experiment with fourth wall breaking, but ultimately it seems to mistake oddity for humor.

The tagline for the movie asks if we are "tired of the expected". Indeed I am, Mr. Dupieux. I am not, however, tired of reason.

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