'Huckabees' explores quirky connections

"I Heart Huckabees" is all about polarity.

The film ponders the interconnectedness of the universe. Is everything connected and what we do matters, or is nothing connected and our actions are meaningless?

Audiences will surely be polarized in their reactions to this film. Half will say director David O. Russell ("Three Kings" and "Flirting with Disaster") has created a hilarious and thought-provoking piece of philosophical comedy that asks the big questions. The other half will say it's pseudo-intellectual garbage and masturbatory drivel.

The most important lesson to take away from "Huckabees" is that the answer lies somewhere in between.

Albert (Jason Schwartzman) is an environmental activist who plants trees in parking lots and reads poems to save the wetlands. Open Spaces, the advocacy group that Albert chartered, is trying to stop Huckabees (think Target/Wal-Mart/Gap) from building a new store on undeveloped land. Open Spaces votes to replace him with Brad (Jude Law), a glib corporate yes-man from Huckabees who brings in Shania Twain to help the cause.

The successful, personable and action-oriented Brad dates the face and voice of Huckabees, Dawn (Naomi Watts). Essentially, Brad is everything Albert is not.

After three chance encounters with a lanky African doorman, Albert enlists Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian Jaffe (Lily Tomlin), a husband-and-wife team of existentialist detectives. They demand unfettered access to Albert's life in order to get to the bottom of the coincidence and help him figure out the meaning of his existence.

To help Albert, the Jaffes introduce Albert to his "other," Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), an aggressive fireman obsessed with the planet's petroleum crisis (he rides his bike to a fire in one scene).

Tommy, whose wife and child have left him, is even more disenchanted than Albert. He introduces Albert to a book written by the Jaffes' archrival, a French nihilist named Caterine (Isabelle Huppert). While the Jaffes preach about the transcendental energy that binds all matter in the universe, Caterine believes that life is nothing but pain and misery.


I Heart Huckabees *** 1/2


Jason Schwartzman ("Rushmore") plays a disillusioned do-gooder who hires a husband-and-wife team of existentialist detectives to investigate the meaning of his life and his crusade against a chain of retail stores in this brainy, philosophical comedy by David O. Russell ("Three Kings").

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The opposing forces act as a devil and angel on each shoulder as Albert and Tommy spend the rest of the film trying to find the purpose of life.

The plot may seem a bit convoluted, but having a nice, tight story is not the goal of the film. "Huckabees" is a venue for Russell to explore the questions that are important to him. To those that find metaphysics and philosophy to be bloated and pretentious, what will make this bearable is that the film is funny. There's something for everyone: slapstick, some well-placed bad language, Dustin Hoffman's mop top and a ton of manic but witty dialogue.

And it doesn't hurt to have dynamite performances from some veteran actors. Schwartzman seems like he was made for these off-color, hyper-intellectual roles and finally shows that "Rushmore" wasn't a fluke. Law is his usual charming self and demonstrates why he's in 73 movies out this fall.

Wahlberg is hilarious and delivers one of the best lines during a dinner with a Christian family. In response to the cry of a little girl that Jesus is never mad at us if we live with him in our hearts, Tommy responds, "I hate to break it to you, but He is. He most definitely is."

While "Huckabees" can be irreverent and nonsensical, Russell has scored a winner with what is one of the most heady and original films of the year.


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