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Movie Review

Rubber

As horror parodies go, ‘Rubber’ is a bit of a stretch

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / April 29, 2011

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If “Rubber’’ was half as smart as it is clever, we might be talking gonzo midnight four-star classic here. Not so much a horror parody as a prankish genre deconstruction — you bet the director’s French — the movie answers a question that may or may not have been bothering you. To wit: What would happen if a castoff automobile tire came to life and possessed the psychokinetic ability to explode human heads?

Gore, laughs, and Pirandellian mind games, apparently. Unfolding in a flattened desert landscape that’s equal parts “Tremors,’’ “Krazy Kat,’’ and Sergio Leone spaghetti western, “Rubber’’ gets rolling with the galvanized killer mysteriously coming to life and recognizing its deadly powers. The tire — played by a tire — experiments its way up the evolutionary ladder, rolling over empty plastic water bottles and scorpions before using its awesome mental powers to make crows, motel maids, and law enforcement personnel blow up in icky spurts of brains and blood. The carnage is cartoonishly graphic, but the onlookers watching through binoculars from a nearby sandy bluff are impressed.

Wait, what? Just to raise the meta-stakes, writer-director Quentin Dupieux occasionally cuts away to a shaggy crowd of paying customers: a pair of fan-boys (Charley Koontz and Ethan Cohn), a father (Daniel Quinn) and adolescent son (Devin Brochu), an obstreperous old lady (Cecelia Antoinette), and more. They’re the audience — meaning they’re us — and their willingness to travel to the middle of nowhere to get their horror freak on isn’t meant as a compliment. Shallow and impolite (no talking during the show!), these people are too stupid to know a toxic turkey when it gets thrown at them, a metaphor Dupieux makes disarmingly literal.

Back in the main story line, we have the standard teen kid (Remy Thorne) who can’t get the grown-ups to believe the killer appears to be a Michelin, his standard lunchmeat dad (David Bowe), and the standard hot-roddin’ babe (Roxane Mesquida) who becomes the object of the tire’s lust after her standard gratuitous shower scene. “Rubber’’ has fun with these cliches, but they never combine for the wickedly comic attack on our complacency the director seems to have in mind.

The two characters closest to the movie’s dark heart are the town’s sheriff (the ever-graceful Stephen Spinella), who’d do anything to break the fourth wall and call off the movie we’re watching, and a wheelchair-bound veteran (Wings Hauser) who’s savvy enough to be the last audience-member standing. Even so, Dupieux lards the lily with the sheriff’s opening speech about the illogic of our favorite films, a bit that’s rerun under the end credits just in case we missed it the first time.

Somewhere in “Rubber’’ there’s an astute, funny, surrealist short aching to be let out. This version — all 82 minutes of it — is both too much and not enough. Still, you have to admire Dupieux’s originality in boiling the automotive horror of movies like “Christine’’ and “Duel’’ down to its most critical spare part. Whatever this movie is, it’s not a retread.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

RUBBER Written and directed by: Quentin Dupieux

Starring: Stephen Spinella, Wings Hauser, Roxane Mesquida

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 82 minutes

Rated: R (violent images — exploding heads, mostly — and language)

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