I Heart Huckabees

"Huck" is often funny but tries too hard at times to be hip and off-the-wall.

Recently, two films take an epistemological tour of reality: "What the Bleep Do We Know" takes the turgid trail trying to explain the neurological and behavioral impact on reality and the shaping that thought can do with destiny; "I Heart Huckabees," admitting its own "fractured philosophy," concentrates on the interconnectedness of all people. Both are "New-Age" existentialism based on sociological and emotional influences with self-help advice for initiates. "Huck's" director David O. Russell ("The Three Kings" and "Flirting with Disaster") has fun mocking the existential philosophies of all the characters but leaves most of the audience wondering what the philosophies are so the audience can be in on the laughs.

"Huckabees," which can take a dark but funny turn when a character changes the "H" for an "F," uses a much less serious approach by glossing the existential tenet that existence comes before essence, that your character is defined by what you do. Albert (Jason Schwartzman), director of The Open Spaces Coalition, hires "Existential Detectives" Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin) to spy on him for finding out who he is inside and why he has flubbed relationships on the outside. His recent aggressive relationships are with corporate climber Brad Stand (Jude Law) at the Huckabees Corporation, which has engaged Albert to connect it with the environment, strictly for appearances' sake, and with the company's voice and model, Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts). The film successfully brings the different characters together in a New Age consciousness, which mostly means disavowing materialism and accepting humanism.

The detectives do their job by helping the three protagonists find out about themselves. Archenemy of the detectives but helper to Albert is Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Hupert), a very French middle-aged radical not above rolling around in the muck to make dirty love with him.

"Huck" is often funny but tries too hard at times to be hip and off-the-wall. Which reminds me, The Huckabees Superstore is a combination of Wal Mart, Abercrombie and Fitch, and L.L. Bean; the big corporation satire gets old quickly. After a while, Law plays the ambition too broadly and Tomlin barely breathes comedy, as she plays too dry and straight.

Like our trying to understand Charles Foster Kane, "Huckabees" doesn't really help us know Albert or ourselves better. But it's a try. Phillips Brooks summed up the search in his "Visions and Tasks": "To know any man is not merely to be sure of his existence, but to have some conception of what his existence signifies, and what it is for."