The one philosophy behind the existential screwball comedy "I ? Huckabees" (pronounce the ? as "heart") is that there is no one philosophy. A satire of spiritual gurus, self-help and other psychological gimmickry, it makes its point by being so esoteric and cerebrally akimbo that it will likely divide audiences between those who find its deliberately abstruse discombobulation amusing and to the point, and those who find it just abstruse and discombobulated.
Written and directed by David O. Russell, the observant and darkly comical wit behind the Gulf War derision "Three Kings," the ensemble storyline whirlpools around Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman), an unhinged and obsessive young environmentalist who has seen the open-space preservation group he chartered slip through his fingers and into the hands of a snake-oil-charming corporate stooge named Brad Stand (Jude Law). Brad is, in fact, an executive at Huckabees -- a slick, corporate retailer with a habit of moving into small towns and building megastores where there had once been open space.
With his failure causing him to question his whole life, Albert seeks metaphysical peace of mind from Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), a pair of unconventional, off-kilter and out-of-sync private eyes who specialize in solving the mysteries of their clients' inner turmoil. Soon they are, quite conspicuously, following Albert to work, peering through his windows, digging through his trash, and pairing him up with another lost soul as a partner in intellectual recovery -- Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), a blue-collar lug of a firefighter whose eye-opening visit inside his own head has rapidly become a slide into bemused Nihilism.
"Huckabees" begins weird (when Beatles-shagged, quaintly befuddling Hoffman explains one of his theories of spiritual interconnection, the screen breaks into surrealist fragments that float around and reconnect to illustrate his point) and gets weirder. Soon superficial Brad has hired the detectives too (with ulterior motives), and so has Brad's dingy Huckabees-spokesmodel girlfriend (Naomi Watts). Both of them get far more emotional deconstruction than they bargained for from the arrangement, just as Albert and Tommy are being seduced by the Jaffes' arch rival -- a sultry, dark-minded French philosopher played by virtuosa Isabelle Huppert.
Russell culls lightly ironic, against-type performances from his entire ingenious cast, and the Peter-Sellers-like vortex of eccentricity that seems to surround Jason Schwartzman in all his roles (think "Rushmore," "Slackers" or "Spun") is the perfect anchor for the film. But "I ? Huckabees" is most droll when you put all its pieces together and see it for what it really is: a sophisticated teardown of single-track belief systems.
The film points out how simple it is to draw the weak-minded away from self-examination, presents devout believers in several schools of thought -- including willfully rigid religious types -- and mocks them all for being blinded to the possibility that there is no philosophy that answers all life's more profound and puzzling questions.
Although "Huckabees" gets by more on its idiosyncrasy than its intelligence, those rolling with its dizzy punches and open-minded to its absurdity are in for a freaky post-Freudian fun time.
Production compaines: Qwerty Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Kanzeon, Scott Rudin Productions, N1 European Film Produktions GmbH & Co. KG, Huckabee's
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Director: David O Russell
Starring: Jason Schwartzman as Albert Markovski, Dustin Hoffman as Bernard, Lily Tomlin as Vivian, Jude Law as Brad Stand, Mark Wahlberg as Tommy Corn, Naomi Watts as Dawn Campbell, Isabelle Huppert as Caterine Vauban, Darlene Hunt as Darlene, Kevin Dunn as Marty, Jean Smart as Mrs. Hooten, Sydney Zarp as Cricket, Jonah Hill as Bret, Talia Shire as Mrs. Silver, Tippi Hedren as Mary Jane Hutchinson, Isla Fisher as Heather, Bob Gunton as Mr. Silver, Talia Shire as Mrs. Silver, Talia Shire as Mrs. Silver, Saïd Taghmaoui as Translator, Jean Smart as Mrs. Hooten
Also starring: Shania Twain