Laughs plentiful in Huckabees

“An existentialist comedy” is the tagline to David O. Russell’s unusual new film that mixes philosophical ideals with satiric humor.

Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) opens the film with a tirade of profanity at the indiscernible connection of what seems to be a string of coincidences in his life. He has on three unrelated occasions encountered the same African young man. He seeks help in finding the meaning of these coincidences from two existential detectives, Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin).

The Jaffes’ investigation forces Markovski to examine his relationship with Huckabees executive Brad Stand (Jude Law). The two were working together to save an area of land for Markovski’s Open Spaces Coalition and promote the Huckabees Corporation to Stand’s personal benefit.

While sorting out Markovski’s coincidence issues, the Jaffes suggest that he team with an “other” named Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg). Markovski and Corn become friends on their journey to figure out the meaning of human existence.

While they explore the Jaffes’ philosophy on the interconnectedness of the world, they meet Caterine Vauban (Isabella Huppert), who imposes her own theory on the two eager students. Vauban, an author and nemesis of the Jaffes, believes the world is full of nothingness and pain. She teaches them how to be a “pure being.”

Stand also decides to hire the “detectives,” much to the chagrin of his girlfriend and Huckabee’s spokesmodel Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts). The Jaffe’s eventually help reluctant Campbell find the deeper meaning to her own sugarcoated existence.

As in many films, the individual adventures and revelations of each complex character become simply intertwined. Markovski says to Corn, “(We are) all connected but grow from the manure of human trouble.”

The film, a departure from Russell’s Three Kings, is likeable enough and generally entertaining. However, it tries to carry more intellectual weight than the film supports. The “existential” or “What does it all mean?” theme is prevalent throughout the film; however, the film is basically just a good comedy.

The strongest element in the film is obviously the ensemble cast. Schwartzman and Wahlberg easily give the best performances of their careers. The two actors complement each other well and exhibit near-perfect comic timing.

Veteran actors Hoffman and Tomlin add their own brand of dry comedy. Law is excellent as the slimy corporate kiss-up. Huppert pulls off a mix of comedy and seduction as the mature foreign teacher. Finally, Watts, who practically plays two roles, is outstanding in both.

The cast and the concept really are good enough to make the film worthwhile. Certain scenes are hilarious, yet the end of the movie falls flat. One scene with Schwartzman and Wahlberg eat dinner with an ultra-religious family alone makes the film worth seeing. Those who love oddball comedies such as The Royal Tenenbaums and Flirting With Disaster will definitely enjoy Russell’s brand of humor.

I Heart Huckabees may not give you a better understanding of the world or human existence, but it does give a few solid laughs and two hours of entertainment.

Rating: B-
Comedy, PG-13, Running time: 122 min.