Neil Young’s Film Lounge – I # Huckabees



USA 2004 : David O RUSSELL : 106 mins

Instead of paying decent money at the cinema to see David O Russell’s desperately disappointing I * Huckabees, you’d do better to purchase or rent his previous film, absurdist post-Desert-Storm comedy Three Kings: even if you’ve seen it before, the picture does improve with repeated viewings and, given current and recent Iraq developments, has never been more bracingly topical.

Huckabees – and it’s typical of this picture’s gratingly pretentious post-adolescent tone that nobody’s sure how to write (is the middle element a word or a symbol?) punctuate (Huckabees or Huckabee’s?) or pronounce (“I love Huckabees” / “I Heart Huckabees”?) that title – is topical, but in a rather more oblique and annoying way. The flimsy “story” is essentially a conflict between environmentalists protecting a marshland and the forces of big business, as represented by the Huckabees department store.

This soon boils down to a personal feud between angst-ridden activist Albert (Jason Schwartzman) and smarmy Huckabees operative Brad (Jude Law), complicated by a whole raft of supporting characters including eco-warrior fireman Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), Brad’s model girlfriend – and ‘face of Huckabees’ – Dawn (Naomi Watts), “existential detectives” Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and renegade nihilist Catherine (Isabelle Huppert).

In these early days of Bush’s second term, Huckabees‘ flip treatment of pressing ecological issue rings somewhat hollow – but Russell adopts this same cavalier attitude to philosophy, psychology and whatever else drifts into his self-indulgently baggy screenplay. Taking an ambitious step in the territory so effortlessly occupied by the sublime Paul Thomas Anderson – the main template seems to be Punch-Drunk Love – Russell falls embarrassingly flat on his face.

The dialogue is relentlessly trite and “clever”, moments of farce are clunkingly ill-advised, and it’s painful to see such terrific talents as Tomlin and Huppert so underused (and, in the case of the latter’s mud-puddle sex scene, humiliated). Plusses, like laughs, are very few and far between, although Wahlberg’s performance (in a poorly-conceived role) is intriguing and amusing while Law, allowed a rare chance to rediscover his obnoxious side, hasn’t been used (or abused) this well in ages.

9th November, 2004
[seen 5th November : Ster Century, Leeds : public show : Leeds Film Festival]

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by Neil Young