I (Heart) Huckabees review by Mike Long

Being weird simply for the sake of being weird (which would be the definition of "art" for some) in movies has typically been left to the independent or alternative side of cinema. However, in the past decade, mainstream movies have been getting weirder and weirder. More and more Hollywood films resemble watered-down versions of David Lynch movies and gross-out comedies seem to be growing more obtuse everyday. Into this fray comes I (Heart) Huckabees, a modestly-budgeted film which features many big-name stars and a story which would make my college philosophy professor go insane. This film takes weird for the sake of being weird to a new level.

The plot of I (Heart) Huckabees is a bit thick, so stick with me. Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is an intense young poet who works with an ecological group called "Open Spaces". He seeks the help of "Existential Detectives" Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) to figure out why he keeps running into an African man. By hiring Vivian and Bernard, Albert has given them permission to follow them and infiltrate every facet of his life. They soon learn that Albert is a very conflicted individual, due to his relationship with the Huckabees department store. Albert has gotten Huckabees executive Brad Stand (Jude Law) involved with "Open Spaces" to help save a marsh. But, Brad has his own agenda, and Albert feels betrayed by this. Through Vivian and Bernard, Albert meets Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), a fire-fighter who is having his own existential crisis. Tommy agrees to help Albert get back at Brad. Meanwhile, Vivian and Bernard realize that their arch-rival Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) is in town and attempting to influence their clients.

If that synopsis sounds weird, then stand back, as I haven't even scratched the surface on I (Heart) Huckabees, as we essentially have (at least) two movies going on here. On the surface, we have the story of a dedicated but confused young man who can't handle an obstacle in his life (Brad Stand), so he focuses his energy on the coincidences of constantly seeing the same African man. At the same time, co-writer/director David O. Russell is throwing a ton of philosophy at the audience, as the characters are constantly discussing coincidences, the inter-connectedness of the universe, and the results of our actions. This results in a film which is constantly changing courses and taking the viewer in many different directions.

This also means that I (Heart) Huckabees is a very challenging film. Of course, that's not surprising, as Russell, the maker of Three Kings and Spanking the Monkey, doesn't make films that are easy to digest. However, I (Heart) Huckabees is especially quirky, as viewers will find it either incredibly disappointing or surprisingly fulfilling. There have been plenty of films that seemed quite "mainstream" on the surface -- which could be enjoyed by any audience -- but with further delving, one would find these movies to actually be quite deep and intellectual. I (Heart) Huckabees doesn't fit this mold, as even when the film morphs into a "normal" comedy, it will suddenly hit the audience with a load of philosophy. This will immediately alienate anyone looking for a breezy comedy. However, even those who can digest the existentialism in the film will find that the sudden philosophical tirades slow the film down.

I (Heart) Huckabees is a truly odd film, but it's not without its charms. As I normally focus on the writing and direction in a film, I rarely notice the cast, but the actors in I (Heart) Huckabees do a fantastic job. Most of the scenes of the film involve at least one (or more) character who is in chaos. These chaotic scenes ring incredibly true, as the actors all seem to speak at once, but the action never gets out of hand. Wahlberg (who at times appears to be in a different film) is especially good, as he alternates between frustration and action. While I would be hard-pressed to fully label I (Heart) Huckabees a comedy, there are some truly funny moments in the movie. In a world where Hollywood movies are more and more homogenous, it's nice to see a truly unusual movie like I (Heart) Huckabees...even if I didn't fully understand it.

I (Heart) Huckabees deals with reality on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Fox is releasing two different versions of I (Heart) Huckabees on DVD -- a single-disc edition and a 2-disc Special Edition. This review reflects the single-disc edition. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks pretty good, as it's sharp and relatively free from grain. However, the picture is somewhat soft throughout the film, and I'm not sure if this was intentional on the director's part or not, but it borders on being blurry at times. The colors are good and the image shows very little artifacting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which consistently delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are handled quite well and the surround sound action kicks in when Albert's meditation leads to a series of vivid images.

The single-disc version of I (Heart) Huckabees contains only two extra features, both of which are audio commentaries. We start with a commentary by director David O. Russell. This talk is somewhat informative, but Russell is somewhat repetitive in his comments. Also, if your political views lean to the right, you may be offended by some of his views. Russell does do a good job of explaining where the ideas for the film came from. The second commentary features Russell along with Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, and Naomi Watts. This one is much better, as Schwartzman and Wahlberg bring some much needed levity to the talk and share some nice memories from their time on the set. The 2-disc Special Edition contains many more extras, such as a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes, and trailers.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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