I ♥ HUCKABEES Or, Being Charlie Kaufman, as writer-director David O. Russell tries to expand the parameters of mainstream cinema as much as the scripter of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Yet while Russell's movie doesn't quite capture the freewheeling dementia of Kaufman's output, it's still a noteworthy effort, with enough engaging hi-jinks -- not to mention a high-wattage cast -- to distract us from the frequent fuzziness of its psychobabble. Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) handles what is ostensibly the lead role: Albert Markovski, an activist who hires a pair of "existential detectives" (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) to help him discover if a series of coincidences is actually an indication of some deeper meaning behind life itself. As the private eyes go about their business, Albert continues to lock horns with Brad Stand (Jude Law), a rising executive with the Huckabees super-store chain and Albert's nemesis on environmental matters. Brad's model girlfriend (Naomi Watts) and an emotionally distraught firefighter (Mark Wahlberg) are also drawn into the fray, and matters become even more heated with the arrival of a French anarchist (Isabelle Huppert) whose nihilistic outlook affects Albert. The philosophical musings espoused by Russell's characters are ultimately about as deep as those found in fast-food fortune cookies, yet the passion with which these folks rail against their unbearable lightness of being is inspiring, and the uniformly fine cast provides shadings that otherwise might not have been there.
THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES The seeds of social change are planted early on within Ernesto "Che" Guevara in this uncomplicated biopic that examines an early incident in the life of the iconic revolutionary. Adapted from the memoirs of both Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado, this new drama from director Walter Salles (Central Station) centers on the two men as they leave their comfortable lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in order to see the rest of South America on the back of Alberto's beat-up motorcycle. Yet what begins as an Animal House road adventure for the earnest Ernesto (Y Tu Mama Tambien's Gael Garcia Bernal) and the easygoing Alberto (Rodrigo de la Serna) -- complete with drunken revelries and flirtatious bantering with the Latina ladies -- turns decidedly more somber as they work their way up the continent and become involved first with the indigenous people of Chile and then with a leper colony in Peru. There's no mention of Castro or Cuba or even those posthumous T-shirts emblazoned with Che's mug -- aside from an end-credit blurb, the movie focuses exclusively on this specific journey. As such, it plays more like a humanist fable about one individual's consciousness-raising than it does as a portrait of the controversial warrior-martyr -- while this may smack some as a play-it-safe ploy by Salles, it also frees the picture from the shackles of expectation and allows it to blossom as a heartfelt paean to a formidable continent and its proud people.
TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone feverishly attempt to offend everyone with this new film that's cast entirely with marionettes. The title outfit -- super-macho warriors willing to destroy the world in order to stop the terrorist threat (there goes the Eiffel Tower; there go the pyramids) -- is a Republican president's wet dream, as is the notion of depicting liberal Hollywood actors like Tim Robbins and Alec Baldwin as anti-American stooges who suffer gruesome deaths for opposing our valiant heroes (you haven't lived until you've seen a puppet Sean Penn ripped apart by a kitty cat posing as a panther). But wait, there's more: a Broadway stage show featuring the song "Everybody's Got AIDS," Middle Eastern terrorists who speak entirely in gibberish (though we can frequently make out "jihad"), an explicit sex scene between anatomically incorrect dolls, and perhaps the longest vomiting scene ever recorded on film. Juvenile? Sure. Funny? Certainly -- though not nearly as often as one might reasonably expect from these guys. The comic highlights are punched across at regular intervals (check out the hilarious depiction of Michael Moore), but once the novelty of the marionettes wears off, the movie has trouble sustaining its length -- or its level of outrageousness. 1/2
CELLULAR After being kidnapped for reasons unknown, a teacher (Kim Basinger) is able to jerry-rig a busted telephone so that it's able to make one random call. She ends up dialing the cell phone number of an aimless kid (Chris Evans) who believes her pleas for help; after a failed attempt to notify the authorities, he decides he's the woman's only hope, though a conscientious police officer (William H. Macy) soon realizes something's up and begins his own investigation. This nifty thriller employs a full-speed-ahead approach that suits the material at hand, even if it never quite conceals the sheer improbability of the piece.