‘Rubber’ is terrible. So, so terrible.
There are some great movies within movies. “The Princess Bride” introduced meta filmmaking (a self-aware genre that presents films about making films, or draws attention to itself and its existence as fiction) to kids, with Fred Savage getting a great story from his grandfather and Westley and Buttercup finally finding love. “Atonement,” “The Notebook” and “The Green Mile” were more depressing, but still dramatically gripping. And “Rubber,” a French film about a tire with the ability to blow up things? Well, “Rubber” sucks.
The trailer for “Rubber” looks so promising: A tire wakes up in a desert, realizes it has the power to explode anything and becomes enamored with a mysterious girl; it’s the boy-meets-girl formula, but with a tire swapped in for the male lead. “Rubber” itself, however, is disturbingly, disgustingly bad, overly long and unnecessarily forced. The movie has an audience and narrator within it, a secondary plot that involves that audience being foolishly dumb and led to believe anything – obviously meant to represent anyone actually watching the film – and an inability to end, to realize when it has crossed the line from moderately amusing into superfluous bad taste.
I’ve reviewed movies for the past six years, and I’ve never seen so many people (I counted 15, out of a 130-seat theater) walk out of a screening before – and if I could have joined them, I would have. Take me with you, people! Save me from this misery!
The movie operates under the philosophy of “no reason,” which a narrator tells us at the beginning of the film. Police Lt. Chad (Stephen Spinella), who climbs out of the trunk of a cruiser, says most films – like “E.T.” and “Love Story” – operate under the “no reason” idea, because since “life itself” is filled with “no reason,” movies can be, too. As a result, “Rubber” is also an “homage to the ‘no reason,’” Lt. Chad says, “the most powerful element of style.”
And here’s where all the problems begin. It’s a bad sign that the film is, in essence, apologizing to us for itself, giving us a kind of head’s up that “Rubber” will be an exercise in terrible with no explanation or purpose behind it. “Rubber” doesn’t focus its attention on making sense or having a satisfying conclusion but instead on insulting its audience and providing gross murder scenes, trying to wink at its audience while actually wasting its time. It tries to be funny and it tries to be absurd and it tries to be silly and it tries to be scary, but “Rubber” isn’t any of those things, not really. It’s a meager attempt at something more, but its own conceit drags it down.
So yeah, Lt. Chad tells us about “no reason,” and then we’re introduced to a group of people in the film who are armed with binoculars and tasked with watching the tire, named Robert, come alive and start roaming through the barren landscape. Those audience members are meant to mirror what we’re thinking in real life – “It’s already boring,” one of them complains – as Robert realizes he can cause things to explode, an effort superseded by him shaking uncontrollably. A bird and a bunny bite the dust, and then Robert turns his attention to people. Anyone who stands in his way has their head explode; at the same time, the audience grows frustrated but also entranced by the proceedings, while Lt. Chad, detached and seemingly in charge, stand around and watches it all happen.
If you choose to do the same, you’ll regret it. Some critics have been heralding “Rubber” as an avant-garde experiment in B-movie filmmaking, fantastic in its badness, and the film has a 70 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But it’s extremely difficult to enjoy a film that is so smug: Audience members who don’t understand Robert are depicted as superficial, shrill and dumb, which isn’t a very nice thing for filmmakers to call people who paid for tickets to see your movie. The murder scenes are boring and repetitive, since explosions all look the same after a while. And really, what’s scary about a tire? Director Quentin Dupieux is trying to make some kind of statement about the goofy illogicality of murder films in general, but even if you “get” his point, that doesn’t mean “Rubber” is worth seeing.
The film is rated R, and it’s deserved: There are dead animals, numerous corpses missing heads and oozing blood and entrails, some female nudity including a woman’s behind, a gross scene in which the audience members gorge on a cooked turkey and a scene where some people die by poisoning. Most of the people who walked out of the “Rubber” screening I saw were teenagers, so the gore is certainly overwhelming for younger audiences.
Metafilms have taken on tons of genres these past few years – “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” mixed in video games, and “The Other Guys” paired Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell together successfully as buddy cops, incorporating lots of nods to previous films in the genre – and if you really want to foray into meta, just see “Scream 4” this weekend, the most self-aware slasher flick of all. Leave “Rubber” laying on the side of the road, where it belongs.