Combustible Celluloid
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With: Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Wings Hauser, Jack Plotnick, Ethan Cohn, Charley Koontz, Daniel Quinn, Devin Brochu, Hayley Holmes, Haley Ramm, Cecelia Antoinette, David Bowe, Remy Thorne, Tara Jean O'Brien, Thomas F. Duffy, Pete Dicecco, James Parks, Courtenay Taylor, Blake Robbins, Michael Ross, Gaspard Augé, Pedro Winter
Written by: Quentin Dupieux
Directed by: Quentin Dupieux
MPAA Rating: R for some violent images and language
Running Time: 85
Date: 05/15/2010

Rubber (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wheel Dawn

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Rubber isn't really about the tire. Oh, if you tell someone about the movie, you'll talk about the tire. See, it's a story about this tire. The tire suddenly begins moving, pulls itself out of a sandy rut just outside some small desert town. It rolls along, smashes a plastic water bottle. It seems to enjoy this. It tries to squish a glass bottle, but has no luck. Instead, it begins quivering and focusing and the bottle blows up. A little more practice, and the tire can blow up small animals, and -- finally -- people's heads.

And so, Rubber tells the story of a tire on a killing spree and the people who happen to be around when it does this (the characters in the movie at some point decide that the tire is a "he" rather than an "it"). There's a police lieutenant (Stephen Spinella) and a pretty girl (Roxane Mesquida) who is driving through, and some other characters, like a cleaning woman (Tara Jean O'Brien) and a boy (Devin Brochu). They all encounter the tire.

But the main point of all this comes right at the beginning. A group of observers, or viewers, gathers in the desert. They are given binoculars and they begin to watch the action as it takes place. Occasionally the movie cuts back to them, and they make comments, such as when the pretty girl stops at a roadside motel to take a shower. Oddly, though, for this audience, the story takes place in real time, over the course of several days; they find themselves sleeping on the ground and waking up without breakfast.

Even weirder, there's an "accountant" (Jack Plotnick) who seems to be in charge of them, and who stays in the same motel as the pretty girl. I won't go any further, except to say that Wings Hauser of all people stars as "the man in the wheelchair," who seems to know something more than his fellow viewers.

The writer/director here is Quentin Dupieux, and you'll see him described as a "visionary filmmaker" in the press materials, even if you've never heard of him. He has made two other features, Nonfilm (2002) and Steak (2007), neither of which have ever been on my radar. He may or may not be a visionary, but he has cooked up an interesting and weird little postmodern movie -- along the lines of Charlie Kaufman's work, but not as warm or human -- about watching movies.

Beyond that Dupieux doesn't have much to say that's particularly deep. The movie doesn't exist without the audience. Check. Audiences will watch anything. Check. Audiences, even though they are not necessarily artists, will complain and think they know better than the storytellers. Check. None of it is going to set the world on fire, but the reason I'm recommending Rubber goes back to the tire. "He" is such an unusual killer and the movie takes that old genre into such consistently thoughtful directions that I was constantly amused. Let's just hope there's no sequel.

The great-looking Blu-Ray, released by Magnolia's genre wing Magnet, features a bizarre "interview" with director Dupieux, and more straight-ahead interviews with actors Spinella, Plotnick, and Mesquida. We also get some quick camera tests, a standard making-of featurette, and trailers for this and other Magnolia/Magnet releases.

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