Jason Schwartzman as Albert Markovski
Isabelle Huppert as Caterine Vauban
Dustin Hoffman as Bernard
Lily Tomlin as Vivian
Jude Law as Brad Stand
Mark Wahlberg as Tommy Corn
Naomi Watts as Dawn Campbell
Angela Grillo as Angela Franco
Ger Duany as Mr. Nimieri
Darlene Hunt as Darlene
Kevin Dunn as Marty
Benny Hernandez as Davy
Richard Appel as Josh
Benjamin Nurick as Harrison
Jake Muxworthy as Tim
Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is an environmental poet who seeks the aid of Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), “existential detectives”, to look into a series of coincidences that are affecting his life. The Jaffes begin snooping into his life to find clues, only to discover that he is in a bitter conflict with Brad Stand (Jude Law), a charming sales executive at the Huckabees supermarket chain. Brad, in turn, hires the Jaffes to look into the relationship with his girlfriend, Huckabees spokesmodel Dawn (Noami Watts), causing Albert, and his new buddy, a rebellious fireman named Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), to break away from the Jaffes’ methods in favor of their archrival, Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Hubert). And that’s when it starts to get weird.
How many existentialists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Two. One to screw it in and one to observe how the light bulb itself symbolizes a single incandescent beacon of subjective reality in a netherworld of endless absurdity reaching out toward a cosmos of nothingness.
And that innocent joke shows exactly why I Heart Huckabees could never work. Claiming itself to be an existential comedy, “Huckabees” certainly delivers on the goods, but rather than wondering about life, the universe and everything, it’s more likely to leave you wondering how a filmmaker like David O. Russell makes a great film like Three Kings, disappears for years, and then returns with something like this.
Anyone who walks in after the credits is going to think that they’re watching the new film from either of the filmmakers named Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes-because “Huckabees” is little more than a non-stop quirk fest. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with a movie being a bit quirky as Charlie Kaufman has proven time and again, but “Huckabees” lacks the human touch and the heart that those other quirky filmmakers have brought to their work.
The premise of all things being connected is itself stolen from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, but then Russell chose to cast Jason Schwartzman as the lead, an actor best known from Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. Schwartzman has not progressed much from his Rushmore days, except that he looks awful, maybe even worse than the meth junkie he played in Spin. He kicks the movie off with an expletive filled soliloquy stolen directly from the opening of the Charlie Kaufman penned Adaptation. We’re quickly introduced to Albert, seeing some of daily bursts of activism, but once he meets the detectives things start to get interesting. That is because the real joy of the movie is seeing Lilly Tomlin back on screen, delivering the dry humor that she does so well, and Hoffman plays off her well, making them the one truly brilliant part of the movie.
Other than that, the movie is marred by ridiculous amounts of overacting, especially from Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts. They spend so much time carrying on and being annoying that their presence has a similar effect as nails on a chalkboard. French actress Isabelle Huppert is sorely miscast as the detectives’ primary competition, and Jude Law, while not bad, doesn’t have much of a stretch to play his character. None of the characters are very likeable, leaving little for the viewer to relate to.
Jon Brion was an odd choice to score the movie, considering how much work he has done with Paul Thomas Anderson and his girlfriend Fiona Apple. He supplies a few lovely musical themes, but the movie seems overscored and it makes the film even more like Punch Drunk Love. (Then again, maybe Russell was trying to drive home the point that everything is connected. After all, he did have a cameo in Adaptation.)
Here’s some existentialism for you. If a movie claiming to be a comedy fails to make you laugh, does that mean it’s not funny? “Huckabees” never really gets off the ground and even when it does find a few funny moments — like Wahlberg racing his crew to the scene of a fire on a bicycle-it can’t keep the momentum going. The few clever sight gags are quickly ruined by more meaningless blather and the lack of true jokes is glossed over by resorting to physical humor like a ridiculous bicycle chase. The movie could have worked just as well without the scene of Schwartzman and Hubbert getting down and dirty quite literally.
Sure, there will be some philosophy majors who swoon over all the hogwash theories that are spouted by the detectives, and many critics will give it slack because it’s by David O. Russell and it has a respectable cast. Frankly, if any other director in Hollywood made this movie, it would be trashed as complete garbage.
The Bottom Line:
Considering the wait since Russell’s last movie, I Heart Huckabees is a huge letdown. However hard you try to make sense or find depth in all the existential nonsense, “Huckabees” is a silly and pointless exercise that verges on embarrassment for all involved. Lacking the sense of drama and the stirring performances of the movies it tries to imitate (Magnolia, The Royal Tenenbaums), it’s left with nothing but a bunch of quirky encounters that has little resonance.