I ♥ Huckabees

Somehow I don’t think old Martin Heidegger, the godfather of existentialism, was a very funny guy. A philosophy based on the absurdity of love and the inevitability of alienation and death is hardly cheerful stuff.
But I was ready to go beyond Being and Nothingness in the new film I ♥ Huckabees, billed as an existential comedy.
After all, the trailers for the film showed it to be a quirky, smart little comedy, sort of a cross between Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker's Guide and Charlie Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich, and I’ve always been fond of nothing in particular, especially nihilism.  And take note: There is a lot of nothing going on in I ♥ Huckabees.
Huckabees wants to be smart, but it just hasn’t done its homework. Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman), a project coordinator for an open space committee, and firefighter Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg) turn to the Existential Detectives when they’ve reached their intellectual and emotional limits, a sort of faux crisis of consciousness. Albert writes bad poetry, you see, and Tommy is a violent jerk.
The detectives – Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) – follow Albert and Tommy around, taking cryptic notes in their spiral-bound notebooks, and spouting a philosophy that sounds more like quantum physics (by way of Deepak Chopra) than existentialism. The detectives seem to be interested in dispelling the idea of coincidence or showing connectedness between objects and people or something. I really don’t know.
Albert’s foil Brad Stand (Jude Law), a young sales rep, also turns to the Jaffes, saying that he feels he needs to be liked by everyone. Brad and Albert work together on the open spaces committee, but Albert is far more interested in media representations than poetry, and the two grate on one another.
When the Jaffes begin going through Albert’s house they meet his fiancé Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts), the “voice” of the Huckabees super-store chain where Albert also works, who almost immediately thereafter shows signs of a unhealthy fetish for Danish hats after talking with the private dicks. Thus is the miraculous power of existential therapy!
At this point in the film, you begin to wonder who came up with the title and what the heck these people think existentialism is, so Bernard describes a unified field to confirm that the film is a sloppy intellectual landmine. Albert and Tommy hit each other with big red balls, trying to reduce themselves down to pure objects, being in itself (or for itself or around itself, refer to Heidegger’s Existence and Being for further confusion), to lend some sense of philosophical absurdity to the film, but the scene mostly works because it seems so silly.
Even the appearance of an evil nihilist femme fatal, Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), can’t rescue this frivolous little film from feeling contrived and dumb. These weird supernatural characters – the detectives and Vauban – are reminiscent of daytime television for kids, and there’s a distinctive Mr. Snuffalufagus quality to Bernard, as though we can’t really trust that he’s real.
It’s difficult to pinpoint why Huckabees is so lackluster. On the one hand, the cast does a fabulous job at portraying very shallow characters and the dialog is often silly enough to be funny. The plot leaves plenty of room for characters to shuffle around and Hoffman and Tomlin are amusing as the mysterious and frumpy detectives.
The unrelenting stupidity of the philosophical rants and the insipidness of the psychobabble are grating in a bad Woody Allen sort of way and the film has the stink of a New Age bookstore lingering around its edges. These shortcomings wear away at Huckabees’ ironic cynicism like a corrosive acid until the movie dissolves into a sort of murky, intellectual eggnog.
The humor isn’t intellectual, it’s physical, and the film is really only funny when it shuts up and shows how silly superficial people look when they pretend to be profound. The inane one-liners that pass for revelation in the film are quite good and the acting is engaging, but the film just spirals out of control attached to the weirdest, most wrong-headed philosophical interpretations this side of Richard’s Gere’s take on Buddhism.  
Huckabees is manifestly dumb; dumb-in-itself; dumb-in-the-world; dumb-for-others; dumb, dumb, dumb. And dumb, friends, isn’t very funny.


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