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Friday, October 8, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Huckabees" cast takes a merry march through the meaning of life

Seattle Times movie critic

Early on in David O. Russell's perplexing but beguiling comedy "I [Heart] Huckabees," we see a young activist named Albert Markovski jogging through a labyrinth of halls in an office building, turning seemingly random corners, making his way through a maze where the destination seems indistinguishable from the journey. That's the movie, in a nutshell: it keeps turning corners and zipping along, and you never know quite where it's going. But for those who attend without an agenda (and those comfortable with talky, philosophy-flavored ambiguity), the journey has its own rewards.

The plot's not easily summarized, but let's try: Albert (Jason Schwartzman, of "Rushmore"), an environmentalist struggling for answers about life, hires a married pair of existential detectives (Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman) to examine his life. Despite competition from their nemesis, a fierce-looking French philosopher (Isabelle Huppert) whose business card reads "cruelty, manipulation, meaninglessness," they launch into a complicated investigation, involving Albert's perpetual competition with corporate golden boy Brad Stand (Jude Law), who works for the superstore chain Huckabees. Soon, Brad's life, along with that of his Huckabees spokesmodel girlfriend Dawn (Naomi Watts) is under the microscope, as is that of disillusioned firefighter Tommy (Mark Wahlberg).

Movie review


Showtimes and trailer

***
"I [Heart] Huckabees," with Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts. Directed by David O. Russell, from a screenplay by Russell and Jeff Baena. 105 minutes. Rated R for language and a sex scene. Several theaters.

Russell, the gifted director of "Spanking the Monkey," "Flirting with Disaster" and "Three Kings," is clearly in an existential mood here — this screwy screwball is filled with lines like "You can't deal with my infinite nature," "He called with his own existential conundrum," and "Have you ever transcended time and space?" (To the latter, an anxious Albert bluffs "Time, not space.") Characters discuss matter theory, a choir sings about nothingness, and sometimes even the screen trances out, splitting into little frames, randomly floating.

All of this is a surprising amount of fun, thanks to the zippy energy with which Russell imbues the film. He doesn't give us much space in which to wonder whether it's all making sense (it didn't for me, at least not on a first viewing), but he shows us such a good time that it doesn't much matter. And he's assembled a marvelous company of actors — each playing a character on the edge, and each seemingly having a blast.

The melancholic Schwartzman, with his caterpillar brows and pale, determined face, makes a perfect on-screen opposite to Law, a tanned and dazzling fellow who's so content, he practically bursts into song at meetings. Hoffman, so loose he almost seems to be improvising, sports a Beatles haircut and a beatific smile; a black-clad Tomlin purrs throatily alongside him, looking ready to transcend his (or Albert's) personal space anytime. Wahlberg and Law, though their characters have less screen time, both project genuine sweetness. And Huppert, looking hungry and slightly dangerous, is the dark cloud floating above it all. Asked a frantic question, she answers "Yes. No," without affect; the very personification of all and nothing.

"I [Heart] Huckabees," after careening in and out of control through its running time, finally fades out quite literally, as form becomes indistinctiveness, and everyone becomes the same. I don't quite know what the point of it all was, but I do know that I enjoyed watching it. It's an experiment unfolding before our eyes, and as such it's refreshing — a merry lurch through life's meaning, a dance on the head of a pin.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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