I ♥ Huckabees

  I Heart Huckabees
"After I read this book, I really did feel the vibration."

© 2004, Fox Searchlight
All Rights Reserved

Albert (Jason Schwartzman, "Rushmore") is thrown into a coincidence crisis when he comes upon a 7-foot Sudanese man three times in one day. Troubled, Albert seeks out Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin), a pair of existential detectives who proceed to trail Albert in his daily life to figure out his quandary. The pair discovers Albert's frustration with Brad (Jude Law), a callous exec for the department store chain Huckabees, who wants to help Albert in his fight to save the local environment (with the help of Shania Twain and Pete Sampras), but also wants to further his career. Falling into an abyss of self-loathing, Albert and the detectives try to solve his philosophical problems while fending off a scheming French radical (Isabelle Huppert), embracing another distressed client (Mark Wahlberg), and encountering Brad's girlfriend and Huckabees spokeswoman Dawn (Naomi Watts), who wants to learn a thing or two about her own infinite nature.

Can a film that questions the great unknown of nothingness, or any other existential crises, be funny? Writer/director David O. Russell seems to think so, which explains the existence of his new film, "I ♥ Huckabees" (IMDb listing). "Huckabees" takes a bizarre and occasionally hilarious look at characters who are in desperate need of self-exploration and personal inventory.

"Huckabees" is a peculiar film, but that's exactly what Russell and co-writer Jeff Baena are going for. They keep the picture light on its toes with lightning quick philosophical and existential ramblings intermixed with broad comedy. This quick pace isn't for everyone, and possibly isn't for anyone at all. It seems to exist only in Russell's head, with the filmmaker trusting that this inspired lunacy will somehow rub off on the more philosophically inclined, inducing the masses to unite and solve their own existential dilemmas.

Much like "Fahrenheit 9/11" and John Waters's "A Dirty Shame," "Huckabees" is the sole vision of the director, and Russell's fervent enthusiasm for the material is infectious even at moments when the film makes absolutely no sense. The fact that "Huckabees" can remain entertaining through so many wild and bewildering tangents is a credit to Russell and the film.

Besides, where else can you see Jude Law vomit lightly into his hand and slurp it back up? Not in "Sky Captain," lemme tell ya.

A lot is asked of the cast in "Huckabees," and the particularly high-wattage lineup of actors is a testament to the faith they shared in Russell and his vision (captured impeccably by cinematographer Peter Deming). Jason Schwartzman makes for an interestingly distressed lead character, whose bizarre crisis of coincidence kicks off the odyssey. With Schwartzman as the film's rock, the rest of the actors are allowed to exaggerate, with the most fun provided by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin as the existential detectives. The two actors look like they're on vacation. Russell gives the whole cast a chance to run wild with the script, with only Mark Wahlberg (who acts as Russell's mouthpiece with his objections to Earth's reliance on petroleum) tripping up a little bit with the thorny dialog. The rest of the cast can only bask in the heat of the complicated ideas, striving to not appear overwhelmed by Russell's film. They're all enormous fun.

As one might expect, "Huckabees" runs out of steam long before it can find a conclusion, which I'm convinced it never does. Once Shania Twain shows up to kick Brad's ass in a hotel elevator, Russell has reached the bottom of his well of ideas, and the film shuffles off softly. "I ♥ Huckabees" is tough to recommend because the toxicity of the material is so potent. But the minutiae that Russell displays here is fascinating, and should provide a conversation piece for the baby-eating pseudo-intellectuals found in wine bars, as well as endless hours of entertainment for lonely college kids who can study the film with the same sweaty intensity that they employ when they pore over the latest changes on the "Star Wars" DVDs.

Filmfodder Grade: B+

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