David O. Russell's second film, the woefully underrated comedy Flirting With Disaster, was a comedy about a man searching for his identity that he defined by his family. Russell's I Heart Huckabees actually has the same basic conflict at its center, but instead of defining identity through family, the film follows characters who are trying to define themselves in terms of the universe. Although these topics have obsessed philosophers and others since the beginning of thought, Russell pares these weighty issues down to one central question: Is everything in the world connected, or is everything in the world separate? Dustin Hoffman, in a character based on the influential Robert Thurman, personifies the "everything is connected" school of thought. His performance as the rumpled existential detective has a childlike wonder mixed with the confidence that comes with wisdom. It is an engaging performance that deserves a better character. The same is true of all the actors. The performers are working hard, and are watchable, but they all seem to play characters that are concepts rather than three-dimensional people. While the plot points in the film feel configured by the writer to prove a point rather than to illuminate character, the actual dialogue sparkles with intelligence, wit, and silliness. Flirting With Disaster and Three Kings both had strong social and political themes but never sacrificed character in order to make those points. The individual scenes in I Heart Huckabees all work well, getting laughs and distilling complicated theories into easy-to-understand nuggets, but for the first time in his impressive career, Russell has overwritten a script. For a film that seeks to teach life lessons, Huckabees needs a bit more real life.
by Perry Seibert review