Dubbed “an existentialist comedy,” you might hope this is a film that tackles with understanding and wit the philosophical school of thought responsible for Kafka’s cockroaches and Sartre’s “hell is other people” and the suicides of French intellectuals. But it’s not.
Existentialism is just the frosting on a “wacky” and “quirky” cinematic cake, making up for I © Huckabees’ sometimes tired and self-conscious style by delivering fair and accurate shots at the shallowness and brightly colored emptiness of our daily lives.
Jason Schwartzman plays Albert Markovski, an environmental activist that likes to sit on top of an enormous boulder in a marsh he is trying to protect and think and mull and mull and think until he’s guided by serendipitous forces to the offices of Bernard and Vivian, a team of married detectives played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin.
Besides the clever homage to the more Chandler-esque variation on this profession, (the initial meeting between Albert and Vivian is rife with a rat-a-tat back-and-forth interrogation that Sam Spade would approve of) these detectives don’t look for cheating husbands or runaway teens or jewel-encrusted bird sculptures. They make their money following people around, observing every aspect of their lives and then putting all the pieces of the puzzle into a coherent picture. Paying even more homage to the hard-boiled detective genre, the investigation leads to a place that the client never wanted to go.
Albert’s nemesis is Brad Stand (Jude Law, in his attempt to be in as many movies as humanly possible this year), a smarmy and ruthless go-getter at the headquarters of Huckabees, a Wal-Mart-style conglomerate that’s negotiating with Albert’s environmental group to save the marsh and its precious boulder. Brad’s only interest is to promote his career.
I © Huckabees has an overqualified cast and features some pretty funny sight gags and a biting commentary on the drifting, soulless society we’ve constructed for our drifting, soulless selves. The ethos of self-help, a life-plan-for-everyone is spoofed to great effect, lending a snarky and sharp tone to a comedy that sometimes feels as though it doesn’t know what the hell it’s supposed to be. That’s the only existential crisis this film bares, but — so what? It has enough smart and funny moments to warrant a recommendation, and it’s another opportunity to see the sleepy-eyed, deadpan, overly serious mugging of Schwartzman, reprising somewhat the character he played in the more affecting and much funnier Rushmore.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but watching I © Huckabees is a helluva lot more fun than reading Being and Nothingness.
Showing at the Birmingham 8 Theatre (211 S. Woodward, Birmingham). Call 248-644-3456.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].