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Inherent Vice - Movie Review


3 stars

You know there’s going to be an issue with a movie, set on California’s west coast during the drugged-out ex-hippie year of 1970, when Benicio del Toro is playing the one and only straight man.  Playing for normal, you know, isn’t exactly his forte.  Maybe this wouldn’t be a problem if Joaquin Phoenix, the leading man in this groovy affair, were a bit more engaging and less mumble-centric.  Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice is an interesting distraction (and the first of Pynchon’s works to make it to the silver screen) but falls short of being memorable due to its lack of passion.

The straw-hatted Doc (Phoenix), his mutton chops, and his unkept beach bungalow are at the center of Anderson’s film.  He’s a hippie drug dealer turned licensed private investigator and, after receiving a visit from his former girlfriend (Katherine Waterston), finds himself drawn into a mystery even the audience fails to completely understand.  Most of the time, the stoner movie unravels as they near the end of the narrative.  Rarely – as is the case here - do they begin unraveled with the blind leading the blind a Doc stumbles his way through a mystery involving a wannabe-Nazi real-estate mogul guarded by Aryan bikers. 

While faithful to the slow-burn ramblings of the book, Anderson’s narrative doesn’t really get any spark from Phoenix’s involvement.  His method acting is on display throughout but rarely does his pseudo romantic pothead antics garner much interest or evoke a chuckle as he does lines with Martin Short, who turns in another hilarious role in his cameo, and spats with Bigfoot (Josh Brolin), a counterculture-hating cop who is the only other actor who gets a beefy role to gnaw on here.  It’s their anti-buddy cop routine that provides the only comedy through much of Inherent Vice.

The film is more of a performance piece for Phoenix; a showcase to display his strengths as an actor.  Although the film features cameos from Owen Wilson, Reece Witherspoon, Jena Malone, singer Joanna Newsom (as our narrator), Michael K. Williams, Maya Rudolph, Jeanie Berlin, Martin Donovan, and Jefferson Mays, the film finds itself centered on a hazy Phoenix as he trips across SoCal.   Unfortunately, he just doesn’t posses the weight for the type of mojo needed to carry the Phillip Marlowe gone Gonzo role he’s currently inhabiting.  He might be having fun but his audience is a bit bored by it all. 

Anderson; however, is to be praised for bringing his locations to life in a very believable manner.  Nothing about the shoot and its locations feels familiar and, yet, we know its Southern California.  We know this grime and this grease.   Somehow – with its crimson sunsets and broken concrete pastures – the scenery surrounding the tweaked-out characters all looks so beautifully new and, at once, lived in.   Unfortunately, that’s where the passion ends. 

Inherent Vice is simply a film about a counterculture already in the past tense.   It is a burning ball of confusion that follows the long and winding road to nowhere.  It’s two and a half hours long and is as meandering as a Sunday afternoon drive with grandma behind the wheel.  Less operatic and rewarding than Pynchett’s novel (but somehow more confusing), Anderson’s new film – which opens this weekend - is competent but lifeless journey through the wrong end of one private investigator’s hippy dippy life.


[tab title="Film Details"]

Inherent Vice - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence
148 mins
: Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson
Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin
: Comedy | Crime | Drama
Inherent Vice
Memorable Movie Quote: "Coming just in time for Christmas."
Warner Bros.
Official Site: http://inherentvicemovie.com/
Release Date:
January 9, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.

When private eye Doc Sportello's ex-old lady suddenly out of nowhere shows up with a story about her current billionaire land developer boyfriend whom she just happens to be in love with, and a plot by his wife and her boyfriend to kidnap that billionaire and throw him in a loony bin... well, easy for her to say.

It's the tail end of the psychedelic '60s and paranoia is running the day and Doc knows that "love" is another of those words going around at the moment, like "trip" or "groovy," that's being way too overused—except this one usually leads to trouble.

With a cast of characters that includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, LAPD Detectives, a tenor sax player working undercover, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists... Part surf noir, part psychedelic romp - all Thomas Pynchon.


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