Dir: David O. Russell.US. 2004. 106mins

Five years after ThreeKings, writer-director David O Russell returns with an absurdistexistential comedy that is more idiosyncratic and daring than anything he hasmade before. I Heart Huckabees combines the lickety split verbalgymnastics of a Preston Sturges with the philosophical musings of a StephenHawking and then adds a side order of Three Stooges-style anarchy just to makethings more interesting.

The result is chaotic,charming, often amusing and frequently exasperating. The closest affinity inrecent years would be with the Charlie Kaufman scripts for Being JohnMalkovich and Adaptation and the all-star cast could help ensure asimilar level of commercial interest although this is simply too odd for mainstreamtastes and will require careful nurturing.

Concerned with the unusualdegree of coincidence in his life, environmentalist-cum-poet Albert(Schwartzman) decides to engage the services of existential detectives Vivian(Tomlin) and Bernard Jaffe (Hoffman). They promise to resolve the outstandingissues in his life and lead him to a better understanding of how everything inthe universe is connected. In order to achieve this they follow him everywhere,eavesdropping on his conflicts with golden boy Brad (Law), a smug advertisingexecutive with Huckabees megastores.

Albert works for OpenSpaces, a consumer coalition dedicated to fighting the suburban sprawl. Bradhas charmed his way into the group, edged Albert out and set about subvertingtheir idealism for the greater corporate advancement of Huckabees.

In the course of theinvestigation, Albert is also partnered with a buddy Tommy (Wahlberg), aderanged firefighter, and encounters the Jaffes' former star pupil turned archenemy Caterine Vauban (Huppert), who espouses the view that all life is crueland meaningless.

Albert's journey towardsself-realisation and being at one with the universe proceeds through numerousfarcical encounters and even includes a series of fantasy sequences inspired bythe surrealism of the Belgian painter Magritte. It's a very heady brew in whichthe hectic pace and torrent of ideas sometimes threatens to completely run awaywith the film.

An air of improvisationprevails throughout and there is often a sense that the camera has been keptrunning in order for the actors to supply a little magic. It is an approachthat will charm some and leave others stone cold. The warm, witty rapportbetween Hoffman and Tomlin seems to benefit most from the approach but thereare other times when the film almost descends into chaos.

It is a considerable tributeto Russell's vision that everything eventually fits into place and makes sense.Beneath the apparent anarchy there is actually a strong sense of disciplinethat prevents the film becoming a folly along the lines of Peter Bogdanovich's TheyAll Laughed or John Boorman's Where The Heart Is.

The top notch cast all seemup for the challenge and whilst old pros like Hoffman, Tomlin and Hupperteffortlessly rise to the occasion, Mark Wahlberg is the real revelationbringing expert comic timing and an emotional connection to his role of a manangered by the state of the world. It is Wahlberg's best performance in sometime.

Prod co: Qwerty Films, N1 European Film Produktions
Int'l sales:
David O Russell, GregoryGoodman, Scott Rudin
Exec prod:
Michael Kuhn
David O Russell, Jeff Baena
Peter Deming
Prod des:
K.K. Barrett
Robert K Lambert
Jon Brion
Main cast:
Dustin Hoffman,Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg,Naomi Watts