FEBRUARY 23, 2011
When I first heard about Rubber, I thought it was a short film. “There’s no way that can sustain itself for 90 minutes,” I said. Well I was right and wrong. It is indeed a feature film, running just under 90 minutes (though padded with an overlong epilogue), but it doesn’t sustain itself for that time, either. After about 50 minutes I started getting bored, and it wasn’t until the somewhat predictable but still inspired finale that my interest returned.
It doesn’t help that writer/director Quentin Dupieux never tops its opening scene, which starts with a car driving through the dusty desert, going out of its way to knock over a bunch of dining room chairs that are arranged up and down the road. The car stops, a man gets out of the trunk, is handed a glass of water by the driver, and then proceeds to ask the audience why ET was brown, or why we never see anyone in Texas Chain Saw Massacre washing their hands or going to the bathroom. The answer to all is “no reason”, which of course sets up the movie itself. “Why is a tire alive and rolling around killing people?” No reason.
The first few scenes with the tire (named Robert) are also its best. It figures out how to roll along without tipping over, kills a plastic bottle and a bug, and then goes to extreme efforts to kill a glass bottle by rolling over it (as it did for the plastic and the bug). It finally does so by “revving”, which causes nearby objects to explode after a few seconds (Robert is a Scanner, I guess). Then he moves on to people, and while I love a good head ‘splosion as much as the next guy, I wanted more of him running things over. It’s a killer tire movie and there isn’t a single scene of Robert rolling over some poor sod. Even if it didn’t kill him, it’s a damn shame that he never even attempts it.
From then on the laughs come a little less frequently. There are a number of truly inspired bits (love the “flashback” montage), and pretty much anything involving Stephen Spinella (the aforementioned “Why is ET brown?” guy) is gold, but there’s just too many scenes of Robert rolling up to someone, that person either dismisses or doesn’t notice him, and then he blows up their head. I also never really shined to the group of folks watching the action as if it was a movie (though one has the movie’s best line, a reaction to the chair-icide). Maybe just me, but a killer tire concept is already a tough sell – adding in meta-humor is not beneficial. Who recruited them, who’s behind their care (they seem to be living out in the desert for the duration of Robert’s rampage), etc, is never explained, and while that fits the movie’s “no reason” motif, there’s only so much WTF I can enjoy in a single movie.
Interestingly, my buddy (who loved it) pointed out that it was like a full length Adult Swim movie, and I agree. However, I feel the same way about Adult Swim shows – there’s only so much I can take. 10-15 minute “episodes” are ideal; as the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie perfectly illustrated, unfiltered randomness can only be funny for so long to me (oddly, that movie had an otherwise unrelated opening scene that was its own best part. Huh.). I love the show, but by about 45 minutes into that movie I was more or less OK with never seeing Meatwad or Master Shake again (Frylock, on the other hand, is always amazing).
I think it might have worked better for me if it was legitimately a horror movie, without all the meta shit. Basically take any Friday the 13th script and replace Jason with a tire – perfectly hilarious “no reason” movie. This other stuff just busied it up with time they could have spent on more traditional horror movie elements (chase scenes, for example – again you’d think that would be a given, but there isn’t one). I mean, you only get one chance to make a killer tire movie, you gotta do it right. There’s no way anyone else can rip it off (though I guess they could do a killer coffee mug or something).
Another factor was that Magnet showed the film as the 2nd feature after Hobo With A Shotgun, the movie born from a Grindhouse trailer (apparently it showed with the movie in some areas; it didn’t play when I saw it). Sort of like a Death Wish style movie by way of Troma, it was so much better than I expected, and I hope everyone involved with the rather lousy Machete sees this and says “THAT’S what we should have done!” Rutger Hauer is brilliant as the titular hobo, and while they try a bit too hard at times, the tone almost perfectly matches that of the genuine Grindhouse films from the 1970s. It’s also got some all time classic awful lines that had me laughing my ass off every couple of minutes. Also: best use of a bear in movie history. Highly recommended, just make sure you leave your politically correct merit badge at home. I can’t help but wonder if I would have enjoyed Rubber more if I saw it first (not unlike, ironically, how I think I would have enjoyed the slower and more subtle Death Proof more if it was first, saving the more outrageous and colorful Planet Terror for the main event).
But don’t get me wrong - it’s still definitely worth checking out. I doubt there will be a better example of “it’s not for everybody” for any movie this year, but I am even more sure that there won’t be anything as original and unique, either. All I ever ask is that more filmmakers use the freedom of horror movies to stretch their imaginations – even if it doesn’t completely work for me, I’d still rather see something like Rubber than another Final Destination movie.
What say you?
P.S. Quite fittingly, this was the first movie I drove my ‘new’ car to (if you recall, my previous car “died” when its tire (and the things connecting it to the car) broke off as I was pulling into a parking spot). For those curious, it’s a 2002 Chevy Impala with 38k miles on it, gold (gave up trying to find black or blue with respectable mileage in my price range) and with a tape deck – I drove to the screening room listening to a mix tape I made in 1997 (I haven’t had a tape deck in my car OR home for over a decade). Needs a bit of minor work (nothing preventing me from driving it – more “I want it to be as ‘new’ as I can make it), but I am once again on the road, and thus, I just want to thank you all again for your donations and Amazon purchases – it means the world to me and every penny helped more than you know. I may not be eating too many steaks in the near future, and I’ll have to cut back on comics and such, but rest assured, HMAD will live, all thanks to YOU! You guys all rock!!!