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I Heart Huckabees (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by David O. Russell. Audio commentary by David O. Russell, Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts. Documentary: I Heart Huckabees production documentary (35 mins). 4 deleted and extended scenes. 5 outtakes. Featurette: Miscellaneous Things People Did. Jon Brion's 'Knock Yourself Out' music video. Infomercials, commercials and PSA's. Inside Look - Robots behind the scenes with Chris Wedge.

FOR anyone who doesn't know, existentialism refers to 'philosophy stressing the importance of personal responsibility and the free agency of the individual in a seemingly meaningless universe'.

It forms the basis of the new 'existential comedy' from Three Kings director, David O Russell, which had the honour of closing this year's London Film Festival (2004).

Yet anyone who would prefer to substitute the word existential for pretentious might just glean a better insight of what to expect - for this is a film that is likely to divide audiences into those who get it and those who don't.

The former will probably hail I Heart Huckabees as another work of bizarre comic genius from Russell, while the latter will probably be scratching their heads in exasperation over how they came to waste so much time over it.

I have to say, I lean towards the latter category, for while brilliant in places, I Heart Huckabees is just a little too existential for its own good!

The film, which boasts a terrific cast, stars Jason Schwartzman as self-loathing environmentalist, Albert Markovski, who seeks out the services of a pair of existential detectives, Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), to figure out the meaning of a recent spate of coincidences/flukes in his life.

Rather than sticking to that investigation, however, the detectives explore all aspects of Albert's life, including his complicated work situation, which uncovers his festering conflict with Jude Law's blue-eyed golden boy, Brad Stand.

And it isn't long before Albert is questioning the essence of existence itself.

Thrown into this heady mix are the likes of Naomi Watts' hot blonde spokesmodel, Dawn, who is currently going out with Brad Stand, and Mark Wahlberg's uncompromising soul-searcher and firefighter, Tommy, who complicates matters still further by joining up with the Jaffes' arch-nemesis, the sexy French philosopher, Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), who offers a different take on existentialism.

Sound complicated? You bet, so if you can't really be bothered figuring the synopsis out, then the film is clearly not for you.

I Heart Huckabees seems to take a perverse delight in being off-kilter, so much so that audiences may quickly tire of figuring out what - if anything - it has to say, while yearning for a straight-forward conversation from any one of its protagonists.

There are funny moments, including a hilarious dinner party involving Schwartzman, Wahlberg and the family at the centre of his coincidences, but they are few and far between, while some of the set pieces, including a particularly wild sex scene involving an amorous couple frolicking in a mud pool, just seem to be ridiculous for the sake of it.

What's more, the film lacks a single character to genuinely connect to, or empathize with, making it very difficult to care about anyone's plight.

Schwartzman is just annoying, while Law and Wahlberg (while clearly having fun in the roles), frustrate as much as they delight, and Hoffman and Tomlin are just too oddball for their own good.

Even Naomi Watts ceases being sympathetic when her character opens up, prompting me to wonder whether her casting had more to do with Russell's need to see her in a swimsuit, rather than providing her with anything meaty.

Those who connect with its themes and conclusions might draw some inspiration from what the film has to say, but for this particular individual, Russell's seemingly meaningless universe remained exactly that.

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