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What reasonable explanation could a filmmaker possibly provide for an abandoned tire suddenly coming to life, rising from its desert graveyard and going on a killing spree? There’s nuclear fallout, but that’s so 1950s, and zombies or a pretty face (in this case, the one belonging to Roxane Mesquida) can only account for so much. Cars and killer tomatoes aside, how many films can you name, compelling or otherwise, in which a self-propelled inanimate object is responsible for so much mayhem?

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French writer, director, cinematographer, editor and co-composer Quentin “Call Me ‘Chaplin’” Dupieux claims that the concept of "no reason" he utilized is illustrative of a capricious world, prompting him to wisely throw logic to the wind in this quirky, low-budget, laugh-out-loud horror spoof.

It’s not a good year when Robert -- the name assigned to the pneumatic newcomer in the closing credits -- is around. Here is one tire that packs more than just a steel belt. Robert rolls in a star performance that’s as heartless as it is tubeless, a hollow ring of hate that can take down an entire fleet of Michelin Men without breaking a tread.

Robert never talks, nor do voice-overs or subtitles give the viewer access to the tire’s inner (tube) life. You have to sway before you can roll, and it doesn’t take Robert long to discover that it possesses deadly psychic powers. The tubeless telepath takes a few test spins rolling over a drink container and scorpion before an empty beer bottle puts the tire closer in touch with its dark side. Unable to trod across it, the tireless tire sends out vibrations that cause the glass to explode. Rubber really hits the road after Robert discovers his killer instincts work just as well on birds, bunnies and human heads.

It’s amazing just how much one gets to know about a ring of rubber in 82 minutes. Robert breathes satisfyingly in its sleep and celebrates with a victory lap after blowing up a rabbit. In its spare time, our spare tire enjoys watching nature shows and NASCAR races. When attacked from behind, the un-sided ring pauses before wheeling on its haunches and turning to confront its attacker. Dupieux playfully shoots through the black donut hole to give the impression the tire is setting sites on its next victim. We feel for Robert as it sits outside the city dump watching stacks of polyester brethren go up in flames. After witnessing first hand the slaughter of its own kind, Robert goes on a killing rampage. And just when you think every possible variation on the Psycho shower scene has been played out, in comes a new topper.

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It’s not all free-wheeling fun and Rubber occasionally loses traction when focusing on the human subplots. A group of spectators clutching binoculars give the initial impression they’re assembled to watch a space launch, not to stand off in the distance acting as a disparate Greek chorus, aimed at adding a running commentary to the narrative. (I did have to chuckle at the sweet irony of two teenage girls shushing the twenty-something comic book geeks talking back at the screen.)

The film walks a slippery, self-reflexive slope. In order to justify his actions, Dupieux devised an element of style, what he calls the “no reason,” as in “Why is E.T. brown?“ Answer: “No reason.“ The surreal scenario casts Stephen Spinella as an actor playing Lieutenant Chad in a film within a film. We open on the character playing Lt. Chad speaking directly into the camera, explaining the “no reason” clause and how it's virtually impossible (and unnecessary) to justify away every plot contrivance.

In a pre-credit sequence, the character appears to be addressing the audience in the theatre. Not until after Spinella’s hilarious two-minute rant do we cut and reveal that his message wasn’t intended solely for paying moviegoers, but the group of fictional onlookers who appear to be hanging on his every word. Not exactly original, but still an attempt by a filmmaker to establish (and hopefully play by) his own ground rules in order to make plausible a cockeyed universe in which rubber kills.

The closing credit outtakes reveal a bit of shoot-now-figure-it-out-later bet-hedging. Just in case it didn’t play to test audiences in Peoria, Dupieux filmed the same scene from two different angles, each one open to varying interpretation. In exchange for gaining a character‘s confidence, Spinella now addresses the crowd in profile while off to his left, and center frame, stands the film-within-a-film’s heretofore unseen accountant (Jack Plotnick) reacting to the pep talk. Instead of flaunting one’s indecisiveness in 35mm, this type of film school experimentation should have been buried in the DVD supplementary material or, better yet, kept a secret.

Rubber is currently playing exclusively at Reading's Gaslamp 15.

Reader Rating: ***

MPAA Rating: R

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