If you're going to base an entire film around a ridiculous practical joke on audience expectations, it's simple courtesy to let viewers in on the gag. Director Quentin Dupieux does us one better, opening Rubber by smashing the fourth wall with a sledgehammer in the form of Stephen Spinella, whose Arizona sheriff emerges from the trunk of a car like a peyote-infused cross between Gary Busey and David Carradine and, looking dead-eyed into the camera, goes on a tirade about the importance of senseless details in movies. Why was E.T. brown? No reason. Why did a stranger decide to shoot the president in JFK? No reason.
"The film you are about to see is an homage to the 'no reason,' that most powerful element of style," he concludes in one of the most bizarre and hysterically funny monologues in memory.
Right off the bat, Dupieux establishes the knowingly ridiculous story that is to follow, the tale of a tire that rises from the sand and, after a quick voyage of self-discovery, realizes it has the ability to telekinetically make things explode, especially people's heads. What unfolds is a thrill-kill road flick akin to The Devil's Rejects or Natural Born Killers. Except the killer is a tire. For no reason.
For whatever reason, it's an absolute blast, thanks in large part to the soundtrack, crafted by Dupieux's alter ego, Euro house musician Mr. Oizo. As Robert—as the final credits reveal the tire's name to be—learns to navigate the dusty landscape, he's prodded along by a playful score of electronica-infused world sounds. Initially unable to roll without teetering like an infant, Robert cruises to music seemingly drawn from the documentary Babies. When he becomes infatuated with a sexy French traveler (Kaboom beauty Roxane Mesquida) he rolls along to Ronnie Dyson's soul classic "Just Don't Wanna Be Lonely," and when he fixates his explosive abilities on an unsuspecting cranium, the soundtrack explodes into a cacophonous symphony of chaos.
The musical choices, and Dupieux's commitment to presenting a grindhouse riff with tongue practically impaling cheek, make Rubber an instant gonzo classic. With redneck cops in full pursuit ("Is he black?" one even asks), he becomes rather sympathetic. Like any desert traveler, all the tire really wants is to relax in a hotel room and watch NASCAR—and if anyone interrupts his R&R, it's their brain matter at stake. That Dupieux's arthouse-grindhouse-funhouse mashup manages to make the most inanimate of objects sympathetic is a minor triumph that yanks the rug with sinister abandon. It is 50 minutes of pure, senseless bliss.
Alas, Rubber clocks in at nearly 90 minutes, and in trying to fill time, Dupieux blows a flat, taking his "no reason" thesis and rubbing it in viewers' faces with seeming scorn for the audience. Not content to let his brilliant opening monologue stand as the explanation of the absurdity, we're also introduced to a gaggle of spectators, who watch the events from a distance and provide dumbass analysis throughout. The device is, intentionally, the equivalent of watching a film in a theater full of knuckle-dragging nincompoops. When Robert takes on human qualities, someone voices sympathy. Whenever something bizarre happens—and something bizarre happens nearly every minute—someone tells you it's bizarre.
It's in this expressed contempt for audiences seeking meaning in ballyhoo that Rubber stumbles, becoming a solid piece of lunacy rather than a brilliant avant-garde horror-comedy. Every time Rubber borders on brilliance, the director's elbow slams into your ribs so forcibly it comes off as snobbishly arrogant. There's a reason for the condescension. Dupieux doesn't trust us to understand that a movie about a horny, murderous tire is firm in its commitment to lacking reason—even after he tells us so repeatedly.