Monday, June 20, 2011

RUBBER: An Exercise in Reason, or a Lack Thereof

Mark Donovan

 FILM REVIEW: "Rubber," by Mark Donovan

Rubber begins with a “police officer” stepping out of a car trunk and giving a speech about “no reason.” The actor playing the “police officer” is Stephen Spinella, who is one of those 'That Guy' actors who you’ve certainly seen before, but just can’t place.
The scene is a set-up to a series of surreal setpieces that all came together, supposedly, for no reason. “In the Stephen Spielberg movie E.T., why is the alien brown?” So begins Quentin Dupieux’s Dadaist exercise in “No Reason.” As Stephen Spinella goes on to state in the introduction, “Life is filled with no reason.”

The idea of a rubber tire being the killer in a horror-comedy is fairly absurd, but, given that there have been many, many horror movies based on even more bizarre “killers”, the idea of a killer tire isn’t that absurd. There have been plenty of straight-up horror films made about inanimate objects as malevolent killers. Just watch Death Bed: the Bed That Eats, or Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes, or The Mangler and see what 40 years of cinematic history hath wrought. The difference is that those movies were not tongue-in-cheek parodies. Somebody actually thought that they would be scary. Rubber, on the other hand, was never meant to frighten. It is part of a new trend in which a writer/director tries to make a 'good bad movie.' The problem with making a 'good bad movie' is that it is impossible to replicate the so-bad-it-is-good cheesiness of 'good bad' films. I believe that was one of the lessons of Snakes on a Plane.

Rubber sounds like the perfect midnight movie fodder, but it just doesn’t work on that level. Quentin Dupieux has no shortage of clever ideas, but not all of them make for enjoyable midnight viewing. He wanted to simultaneously make an absurd midnight movie, and a commentary about absurd midnight movies, but the two ideas do not entirely suit each other. Starting the film by breaking the fourth wall is a bold move, but it drains the movie of any suspense, along with the fun shock that comes from watching something truly absurd. By telling the audience, and the fake audience of the movie that this is all just a game, it loses whatever edge it could have had. This was intended to be the thinking person’s killer tire movie, and for that it may end up driving most of its audience away.

That’s not to say that the entire film is a bust. Dupieux is a very clever craftsman, and he does stage some wonderfully odd setpieces, usually involving Stephen Spinella, or Wings Hauser, playing an old, wheelchair bound man in the audience. The cinematography, also by Dupieux, is very well done. This is a beautifully shot film. Dupieux has certainly put a great deal of thought and care into making this movie; the problem is that he may have over-thought the film. As a horror-comedy, it is neither very funny nor very scary, though the horror part of horror-comedy was probably never supposed to be scary. As an exercise in weird cinema, it is not weird enough.

Still, the movie isn’t a straight-out failure. There is enough contained within to reward those curious enough to want know what exactly the “killer tire movie” is about. Just understand, this isn’t a movie for every midnight movie fan. The pace is deliberately slower than most gonzo horror films, and there is some none-too-subtle commentary about the effects of watching too many inane horror films. Dupieux, in trying to make a modern commentary on gonzo horror-comedies, may have made the Werckmeister Harmonies of gonzo horror-comedies - only time will tell whether the audience is willing to embrace it.

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Written by Mark Donovan

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