Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson (Rushmore), Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia), and David O. Russell could arguably be called the four best writer/directors to surface in the ’90s and are clearly helping to lead a new wave of filmmakers similar to the emergence of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Brian DePalma around the same time in the ’70s.
In the 12 years since Reservoir Dogs signaled the arrival of new independent cinema, none of these young directors have made more than four films (counting the Kill Bills as one). Today’s younger, more artistically minded filmmakers are more likely to take a three-year break between releases than to crank out a movie a year.
That brings up Russell, who seemingly disappeared after the brilliant Three Kings came out five years ago. One would hope his newest film, I Heart Huckabees, would make up for the absence. Unfortunately, Huckabees is merely another good film, not a great one, and when the competition includes QT and the Andersons (not related), good isn’t going to cut it.
Huckabees looked promising, boasting an impressive cast that includes indie-fave Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Jude Law, Naomi Watts and the surprisingly versatile Mark Wahlberg. The actors deliver as promised, and Huckabees is still a quality picture, but it lacks the powerful brilliance behind Russell’s previous work.
The story is quirky and interesting, featuring Schwartzman as a confused environmentalist who seeks out a goofy pair of “existential detectives,” played by Hoffman and Tomlin. Schwartzman’s nemesis and total opposite is an upbeat young executive (Law), and he too becomes involved with the detectives, who are a strange cross between private investigators and psychiatrists.
The plot is too multi-layered to explain, and that is part of its weakness. Huckabees is terrific as a quirky comedy with unique characters and good acting. It fails as a philosophical drama, though, because it never leaves an opening for the audience to absorb itself in the subject matter. Instead, the viewer is left on the outside, able to enjoy the film and its content, but not able to become really immersed in it.
The best performance in the film comes from Wahlberg, shockingly enough. It’s fun to still think of him as Marky Mark, and yeah, he did do Planet of the Apes and Rock Star, but Wahlberg deserves way more credit than he gets from most moviegoers. With Boogie Nights and Three Kings, he participated in two of the best films of the past 10 years, and it’s not his fault that Huckabees doesn’t reach that mark as well. In it, Wahlberg plays a semi-environmentalist firefighter whose major issue with society is its blind consumption of petroleum. So he rides to all the fires on his bike, and he later becomes Schwartzman’s sidekick and friend. It helps that he’s given a good share of the random comedy in the script, but he also plays it perfectly and could get a Best Supporting Actor nomination if voters could overlook his youthful indiscretions. Huckabees is worth seeing for fans of quirky humor and bizarre philosophical ramblings about modern life. It is not another masterpiece from Russell, but is laugh-out-loud funny and very enjoyable. Russell, along with P.T. Anderson and Tarantino, doesn’t look like he’ll have another dramatic effort out for at least a couple more years, although he does have a war documentary due out soon.
Shawn Wines can be reached at