Environmental activist Albert (Schwartzman) is so perplexed by a coincidence that he hires an "existential detective" team (Hoffman and Tomlin) to discover its underlying meaning. However, the intrusive 'tecs are more interested in exploring Albert's relationship with his nemesis Brad (Law), a PR man for retail chain Huckabees...
Two key questions throb at the centre of David O. Russell's first outing since '99 Gulf War actioner Three Kings. Firstly, the big one: what's the meaning of life? And secondly, the even bigger one: how the hell did he convince Fox to greenlight a bizarre, nebulous comedy which involves - among other things - bad poetry, quantum theory, a 9/11-frazzled fireman, Shania Twain eating chicken salad and an intellectual conflict between Eastern philosophical notions of universal interconnectedness and the more nihilistic musings of Sartre?
Of course, the first question can't really be answered, even if Russell makes a fair fist of it. As for the second, well, it seems that a good script can count for a lot, even if it's impossible to pitch in fewer than 50 words. It can attract a great cast, too, Russell's game ensemble savouring lines like, "There is no remainder in the mathematics of reality," and, "I don't see this as therapy; it's just that I'm proactive and these people are action-oriented"
It's not for everyone, that's for sure. You could easily see it as a movie that's as much about nothing as it is about everything, and its meandering plot is little more than a collage of whimsical skits, allowing tangential events to become central while pushing seemingly important events out of the foreground. It's also arguable that what I Heart Huckabees really lacks is, ironically, heart, its characters mere vehicles for Russell's existential explorations.
But as a highbrow farce it quirks perfectly, kind of like a smaller, less melodramatic Magnolia with more laughs, and the cast is energetic and effective enough to generate warmth towards their sketchy roles. Wahlberg is particularly entertaining as the SUV-hating fireman who insists on riding his bike to emergency calls, while Hoffman has a twinkly, impish appeal as the therapist-cum-detective who teaches Albert how to deconstruct reality.
Russell also has some neat visual tricks up his sleeve, snipping squares out of the fabric of reality and floating them around the screen, and presenting Albert's subconscious conjurings as freakish cardboard cut-out animations. Even if you lose track of what precisely the film's trying to say, at least its smart style - not to mention some great physical comedy - will see you through.
If you're up for it, you'll discover a fresh, funny little romp unafraid to tackle the biggest issues of all.
Reviewed by Dan Jolin