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Watching the Detectives.

When I first heard that David Russell’s I Heart Huckabees was billing itself as an “existential comedy,” I cringed. At the very least it sounded pretentious, and the last Naomi Watts film I saw about interconnected nothingness — 21 Grams — turned out to be a dog’s breakfast. But, given the cast and David Russell, I remained intrigued, and gave it a go on Wednesday. As it turns out, Huckabees is actually pretty solid — fitful and a bit meandering, sure, but still a pleasant, funny, and decently thought-provoking night at the movies.

Russell gets special points for making both his bizarre tale and his philosophical digressions easy and entertaining to follow. — unlike, say, Waking Life, you never feel like you’re getting battered over the head with coffee-house theory. Albert (Jason Schwartzman) is an embattled young environmental activist who enlists the aid of “existential detectives” Bernard and Vivian (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) to ascertain the cosmic reasons behind a seemingly random coincidence involving a tall Sudanese immigrant (Ger Duany). After further research, our detective duo discover Albert’s plight probably also involves Huckabees corporate cog Brad (Jude Law, with a lousy American accent) and Brad’s girlfriend and Huckabees spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts, ditto.) All the while, Albert and his “Other” — petroleum-despising fireman Tommy (Mark Wahlberg) — have begun to doubt the meaning of it all and are inexorably falling under the sway of Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), a french nihilist to do Lebowski proud.

Got all that? Well, like I said, it makes more sense on the screen than it does on the page (or, um, computer screen, well you get it.) For the most part, particularly in the early going, Huckabees is jaunty and whimsical. Albert and Tommy’s visit to the god-fearing Hooten household (Jean Smart and Richard Jenkins) is particularly funny. (And, perhaps surprisingly given the cast here, Mark Wahlberg steals every scene he’s in.) But, I’ll admit, as the film wore on, there were times when I began to doubt its infinite nature. I thought some of the visual playfulness (“blanket-vision,” or the godawful-creepy Jude Madonna) fell flat, and I found my attention wandering during the final act. Still, all in all, I’d recommend the film with some reservations…You may not heart Huckabees by the end, but you’ll more than likely be entertained by it. I give it two-parts blanket, one-part void.

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