- - Thursday, April 14, 2011

First a word of caution: If you don’t like offbeat, experimental films that toy with the conventions of narrative and mock the boundaries of the physical universe, you will not like “Rubber.”

Neither a cutely self-referential spoof, like the “Scream” franchise, nor a metafictional examination of the creative impulse like “Adaptation,” “Rubber” is a horror-movie parody from French director-cinematographer-editor Quentin Dupieux. It is the story of a car tire that comes to life as a malevolent force, with a taste for trash TV, home invasion and murder. The tire kills via its uncanny ability to telekinetically explode the heads of anything or anyone it happens to come across. But the tire’s swath of destruction is only part of the tale.

The movie opens with an audience assembling in a scrubby patch of California desert to watch via binoculars a “movie” as it unfolds live in front of them. Before this begins, they (and we) get an introductory speech on how most of the stories in cinema (“Love Story” and “E.T.” are among those mentioned) develop “for no reason.” The speech comes from Lt. Chad (Stephen Spinella), who in addition to his role as impresario also leads the investigation into the mysterious deaths-by-exploded-head that pile up once the tire starts wreaking havoc in the tiny desert community.

The audience is isolated and without food, watching the action by day and sleeping outdoors by night. They debate the plausibility of the story, the possible source of the tire’s power and its motivation, even as they grow weak with hunger. Their deliberations are so noxious to Lt. Chad that he decides to have them killed. Once the audience is done away with, Lt. Chad thinks he can call off the whole show, because it has become a movie that no one is watching. But within the logic of the movie, it is no longer a show — people are being killed, the tire is at large, and one audience member has survived and is demanding a Hollywood ending.

“Rubber” is utterly shameless in its parody of low-budget movie conventions, from the gratuitous shower scene to the visible wires in the carcass of an exploded bird. A young teenager is the first to become aware that the tire is the culprit — but his suspicions are met with scorn.

But beyond the parody, there’s a subtext that reads like the hallucination of a Sorbonne semiotician three days into an absinthe binge. There’s a radial tire that is the embodiment of primordial Nietzschean will, shot lovingly in close-up. There is the bad, tossed-off English language script so contemptuous of American idiom that it seems designed to be rendered in French subtitles. There is the question of whether a story can exist independently of its audience. Though “Rubber” is at times ponderous and self-indulgent, there is something infectious about its mix of visual comedy, satire and outlandish narrative structure.

★★½

TITLE: “Rubber”

CREDITS: Written and directed by Quentin Dupieux

RATING: R, for occasional profanity, nudity and frequent exploding heads

RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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