I Huckabees (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Our culture treasures originality. Perhaps every culture does. We always remember the first of this or that, and that "first" person or event becomes a cherished part of our heritage. Nobody really cares about the second. George Washington is the Father of Our Country. The second President - who the hell was it again? Most people think it was Jefferson, but he was number three. If you're really into such things or still in school, you know the answer, but I'm willing to bet that 90% of Americans can't name the second President. As for the second person to make a solo flight across the Atlantic ... who the hell cares? History only cares about the first. We believe that originality has intrinsic value over and above the difficulty or merit of the task itself. It is originality that we often equate with the magical word "genius."

Which brings us to I ♡ Huckabees, an offbeat comedy which isn't very funny or even very interesting to most people, but is dazzlingly original. In fact, it is so original that it could well be the raving of an insane person, and provides some clear evidence of truth in the old saw about the similarity of genius and insanity. Which is it? Beats me. Maybe some of both.

It's about Albert Markovski, an environmental activist whose life is going poorly. One of his recent projects resulted in the destruction of an entire micro-biosphere except for one rock, upon which he sits to meditate and mutter. His entire environmental group is in danger of being co-opted by a slick, charming corporate huckster whom Albert originally asked for help. At the moment we join his thoughts, Albert is obsessed with the coincidence of having seen the same very tall African man three times in three separate places. Since he can't determine whether the coincidence has any significance or meaning, he does what I think any of us would do ...

... he enlists the services of an existential detective agency.

And that was some of the more normal activity going on in this film!

It is not entirely impossible to make something entertaining out of material like this.

  • Woody Allen forged entertainment out of philosophy and the big questions in Love and Death and in several of his short stories. He scored by going for the belly laughs, by finding absurd humor in the absurdity of the universe. Huckabees does not do this. In fact, rather than making semi-respectful fun of philosophy, Huckabees takes the philosophy seriously and makes fun of those who deprecate it! (Yeah, plenty of laughs there. Those philosophers were some zany motherfuckers, as you know if you've seen Aristotle's definition of comedy. Funny, funny guy. Always cracked up Plato with the Groucho glasses.)

  • Michael O'Donoghue made philosophy funny by finding humor in the process of intellectual engagement. In fact, the rabid genius known as Mr. Mike once started a National Lampoon piece with a very similar premise to that of I ♡ Huckabees. Anybody but me remember Critique of Pure Murder? The philosopher detective Jean-Paul Sauvage was a hard-boiled, hard-thinkin' dick who wasn't afraid to ask all of the tough metaphysical questions, and finally managed to unmask a false intellectual as the real murderer, because the pretender owned a copy of Will and Ariel Durant's History of Philosophy! Huckabees does not take this kind of approach either. The detectives in this film actually work like psychologists, not like detectives. Their only detecting is to find the deceptions posed by the conscious mind, and ultimately to strip them away.

What does Huckabees do to engage an audience, exactly? Frankly, I don't know. There were a few interesting ideas, but if there was any point, I missed it. Does it need a point? Well, no but it needs something. Writer/director David O Russell (Three Kings) is a talented guy and a fresh thinker, but I found almost no laughs in this film, no insights at all, and made no emotional connection to it at any time through any character. It seemed like a lot of babbling. All the characters speak very quickly, often repetitively, sometimes simultaneously, and usually in a very clipped manner, as if Jack Webb were suddenly to be transported back into the 30s to find himself competing for a word edgewise among Carole Lombard, Moe Howard, and Jimmy Cagney. (Dustin Hoffman even went for Moe Howard's hairstyle.)

The British critics generally despised this movie. American reviews were mixed, and Ebert panned it, but there were those who absolutely loved it, and there is now an incredibly comprehensive special edition DVD which will be treasured by that group. Why did those people like it so much? Well, the damned thing is odd, and tries to deal with weighty issues. There will always be people who like it for those reasons alone. And it is certainly original, and just about everyone treasures originality.

But after watchin' this movie, I'm thinkin' that originality may be overrated.



  • Commentary by director David O. Russell
  • Commentary by Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, and Naomi Watts
  • Anamorphic widescreen and full-screen formats
  • Production featurette
  • The Charlie Rose Show
  • 22 extended and deleted scenes
  • 5 outtakes
  • 6 Open Spaces Coalition PSAs
  • Commercials
  • Photo montage
  • Infomercial (long version)
  • Infomercial extra dialogue tangents and Jon Brion's performances
  • Behind the scenes of the detective's infomercial
  • Number of discs: 2


Naomi Watts appears in skimpy shorts which expose the bottom half of her bum.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: two and a half   stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 2/4.

  • British consensus out of four stars: one and a half stars. Mail 1/10, Telegraph 5/10, Independent 1/10, Times 2/10, Sun 8/10, Express 6/10, Mirror 8/10, BBC 2/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $20 million for production. It grossed $12 million domestically, on a maximum of 901 screens.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. It must be a C+ simply because it is a cult film which has inspired ardent devotees, but it is simply not for average moviegoers. I found it too aloof and too meandering, and could never get involved in it.

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