If at some point in a movie version of Waiting for Godot, the tree suddenly developed a mind of its own and whacked off Estragon's head — well, it wouldn't top anything in Rubber for splattery absurdism. Written and directed by Quentin Dupieux (aka French techno artist Mr. Oizo), Rubber, starring Stephen Spinella, Wings Hauser and a tire, is postmodernism in a B-movie blender. It dances — or rather, rolls — so brilliantly along the line between avant-garde and exploitation movie that I'm inclined to say it's both ... though I'm not sure it really matters.
Released by Magnet — the Magnolia Pictures genre arm behind Troll Hunter, the Graveyard Shift Audience Award winner at this year's Nashville Film Festival — Rubber is perfect late-night fare. Robert, the film's once-inanimate protagonist, is a tire who comes to life in an unspecified desert, discovers that he is endowed with destructive powers and becomes enamored of a travelling brunette. (As often as I read those words, I cannot believe I actually typed them.) As he rolls, wobbly at first, through the beginning of the film, Robert's path becomes littered with the exploded victims of his self-discovery. Along the way, Robert is personified in a variety of ways, to amusing effect. Think the Red Balloon with a sour disposition.
Still, off-the-wall premises can be like theater candy — tempting while you're in line, but overpriced, underwhelming and not nearly enough to get you through a feature-length film. Thankfully, that's not the case here. Instead, Dupieux mixes meta with mayhem, giving viewers the unique opportunity to say "Robert the killer tire" and "Jacques Derrida" in the same sentence during post-screening discussion.
The framing of Robert's narrative is best experienced and not read, but suffice it to say that this movie already has an audience and it isn't you. A small group of tourists watch through binoculars as the police — toned-down Reno 911! types — attempt to solve the gruesome murders, but soon the line between the two fades. The setup allows for the film-theory-geek equivalent of the "If a tree falls in a forest ..." conundrum. That is, can there be a movie without an audience?
Rubber may well be one of the best films to hit American screens thus far in 2011. If you even have any expectations for a movie about a murderous tire, it will blow them to bloody pieces. And if you still have a head when it's finished, you'll get to use it.