`Huckabees' has you wondering what it's all about


October 15, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

There's a depth to I (heart) Huckabees that seems both daunting and exhilarating, until one thinks about it. And then, it becomes clear the movie is not deep at all, at least not in a sense that's worth plumbing.

A humor-laced inquiry into the relationship of things to each other, whether events are interconnected or whether existence is just a series of random, disjointed events, Huckabees tries to suggest some greater truth while, at the same time, mocking the need for such a search at all. It's nice to see that writer-director David O. Russell (Three Kings) has such weighty matters on his mind, but slightly disturbing to watch him argue both sides of the issue, then simply throw his hands up in the air and wonder why anyone should bother.

Poor Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) has gotten himself into something of an existential muddle. He's encountered the same tall, slender black man on three different occasions. Is there a significance here he doesn't fathom? Is the universe trying to tell him something? And what, if anything, does this have to do with his job as an environmentalist who tries to save marshes and other natural places by writing bad poetry?

Such questions require expert help to answer, so Albert hires a husband-and-wife team of "existential detectives" named Bernard and Vivian to sort things out. Played with great comic deadpan by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, they trail Albert continuously, listening in on his conversations, interviewing those he comes in contact with, all in an effort to uncover the deeper meaning - because, as they continually assure Albert, everything is connected. Imagine existence as a blanket, Bernard helpfully suggests.

Albert's troubles, alas, do not end with such philosophical matters. He's also being squeezed out of his job, as his group's members find themselves more attracted to Brad (Jude Law), who promises to bring something more than poetry to his efforts. Of course, Brad is more than he seems; he's a rising executive of the Huckabees department store chain, out to co-opt the environmentalists so that his store can continue despoiling the earth in search of greater profits.

Other characters wander in and out of the film, including Brad's girlfriend and Huckabees' spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts), who's getting tired of her body doing all the talking; firefighter Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), who bonds with Albert and makes him question his views of existence; and Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), a former disciple of Bernard and Vivian's who now preaches that nothing in the universe is connected, and that life is a series of events with no common thread.

Russell's movie scores points for highlighting the yin and yang between corporate and environmental interests (to everyone's amazement, Huckabees the store somehow is seen as a friend of the environment). There are also more non sequiturs per minute in this film than in anything since Monty Python, which should cause absurdists great comfort, while driving the more literal-minded to distraction. And there's nothing wrong with driving the literal-minded a little crazy.

Huckabees boasts an impressive cast, and every one of them is fun to watch. But there's a strong sense that no one really knows what's going on here. There are good performances and lots of existential laughs, enough to tickle Philosophy 101 students everywhere. But in the end, I (heart) Huckabees comes off seeming a lot smarter than it really is.

I (heart) Huckabees

Starring Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Naomi Watts

Directed by David O. Russell

Rated R (language and a sex scene, in the mud)

Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Time 105 minutes

Sun Score **1/2

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