“Rubber” is an odd movie. It’s become fanboy-fashionable to rave about the story of a killer tire—yes, you read that right—with psychokinetic powers—think “Carrie” with treads—who terrorizes the American southwest and I’ll throw my hat in the ring, but only to a certain point. Writer/director Quentin Dupieux begins the film with an existential manifesto, an ode to the “no reason” element he says is crucial to the success of any movie.
“In the Steven Spielberg movie E.T, why is the alien brown? No reason,” says Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) in the film’s opening minutes. “I could go on for hours with more examples. The list is endless. You probably never gave it a thought… but all great films, without exception, contain an important element of no reason.
The speech, while entertaining, is a dodge that allows the director to present all the story’s bizarre twists with a straight face but it is kind of disingenuous. Of course there is a reason why the tire comes to life and kills people. Just like there is a reason why there is a group of people in the desert watching the tire’s killing spree through binoculars as though they are watching a movie. I could go on for hours with more examples, to quote Lieutenant Chad, but you get the point.
It’s an absurdist tract on how and why we watch movies, what entertainment is and the movie business, among other things. But frankly, mostly it’s about a tire rolling around the desert and while there is something kind of hypnotic about watching the tire on its murderous journey—think “Natural Born Killer” but round and rubbery—that doesn’t mean “Rubber” is a good movie. For all its subtext, style and audacious storytelling it is still essentially a cool short film idea stretched beyond comfort to 82 minutes (with credits).