-By Doris Toumarkine

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I Heart Huckabees, no doubt the sentiment of co-writer/director David O. Russell, had better go from his lips to God's ears because, otherwise, this messy tale of a tortured environmental activist seeking help from existential detectives hasn't the chance of an ice cube in hell (whether or not God and hell exist) of scoring with audiences.

Fox Searchlight, among the savviest of the specialized distributors, most surely had faith in Russell, who, in retrospect, miraculously delivered Flirting With Disaster and Three Kings, and in producer Scott Rudin, believed by some to have transcendental powers of getting material on screens and stages. But the tipping point in getting Huckabees past red to green had to be the film's all-star cast, which includes Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law and Naomi Watts, not names to sniff at. And the distributor's financial exposure was protected by outside financing. In fact, how the Huckabees project snowballed into a film has got to be a far better comedy than what emerged on screen. Who snowed whom and how they did it is the story we clamor for.

As for the story we must settle for, Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman), who is prone to read poems at the rocks he connects to as an environmentalist, seeks the help of Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), a husband-wife team of existential detectives, after Albert is overwhelmed by the coincidence of running into the same doorman (who pops up in other guises) time after time. Albert is also plagued by matters of energy, time, space, and matter itself.

As the somewhat flaky couple spy on Albert and put him through some oddball, Orgone box-like treatments, Albert tangles with Brad Stand (Jude Law), the charming executive at Wal-Mart-like chain Huckabees, who is scheming to take control of Albert's Open Spaces Coalition as a PR ploy.

Albert also finds a kindred soul in firefighter Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), another Jaffe client grappling with issues of the cosmos. Other floaters moving in and out of Albert's world are Huckabees spokesperson and model Dawn (Watts), also Brad's girlfriend; French philosopher/writer Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), a former Jaffe colleague and mysterious temptress who practices her own brand of therapy, and a wealthy, environmentally concerned matron (Tippi Hedren in a cameo).

There are plenty of attempts at absurdist, droll humor, but Huckabees is too eccentric for its own good. The film's many visual tricks, largely in the form of jump cuts, collages and other special effects that break up the imagery, at least provide relief from a numbing narrative. Bob Dylan and Magritte are among a number of artists referenced for whatever reason.

Those who brave Huckabees will have to settle for the chance to watch some of the best actors around as they gallantly try to get philosophical and silly and maintain their dignity.

-Doris Toumarkine

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