I ? HUCKABEES The meaning of life... finally!

I ♥ Huckabees
dir. Russell
Opens Fri Oct 8
Various Theaters

When you watch a movie, you can usually tell within the first 10 minutes or so how the film's going to be remembered in the popular cinematic canon (or, for that matter, if it'll even enter the canon at all). Ishtar. The Royal Tenenbaums. Showgirls. 2 Fast 2 Furious.

So perhaps the most bizarre thing about David O. Russell's (Three Kings, Flirting with Disaster) I ♥ Huckabees is how steadfastly it refuses to be categorized, analyzed, or predicted. It's a film that defines itself by itself--and once you figure that out, you can start enjoying the film for what it is: something smart, surreal, funny, original, hopeful, sad, and resonant.

Jason "That Kid From Rushmore" Schwartzman plays Albert Markovski, a hipster/hippie whose experience with strange coincidences inspires him to hire two "existential detectives," Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin). As the loopy Bernard and Vivian delve into Albert's psyche and bombard him with existential pop philosophy, they discover there's more to Albert's life--mostly that he's single-handedly started a feud with the corporate giant retail store Huckabees. (The insipidly likeable Brad--the perfectly cast Jude Law--a Huckabees rep, promised Albert help with a swamp-saving campaign, but things went south roundabouts the time Brad brought in Shania Twain as a spokesperson). Other players in Huckabees' impressive ensemble: Naomi Watts, as Brad's girlfriend/ Huckabees model; Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), a nihilistic counterweight to Bernard and Vivian's floaty musings; and Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg, at the top of his underestimated game), a charming, possibly crazy firefighter who's lost his wife and daughter due to his newfound panic about life's Big Questions.

To tell much more about Huckabees' lackadaisically twisting, manically intellectual plot would be doing it a disservice. It's something at once contrived and organic, bearing its characters through the film like the best comedies and dramas--imperceptible in its mechanics, yet never timid. Watching Huckabees, you never get quite lost--you always know it's a movie--but it's so confident in its uniqueness that you really won't care. While Russell never quite hits the "holy shit" philosophical breakthrough one senses he's aiming for, in Huckabees' apexes, he gets a lot closer to it than most.