Inherent Vice review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Inherent Vice plays as a stoner detective film in the most lucid methods of storytelling. As the first film adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, director Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted his most overloaded and zaniest film yet. Anderson stated that he drew inspiration from a variety of sources including The Big Sleep, Airplane! and Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke. It certainly does feel like he crammed all these elements into a blender and then let it overflow to two and a half hours. The result is an admittedly messy splattering of colorful characters in quirky scenes, but there’s just something so admirable about this playful and nearly incoherent film.
Set in California during 1970, beach-based hippie Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) finds his profession as a private investigator growing too quickly for both him and the audience. His ex-girlfriend Shasta strolls in with a case of preventing her new lover, real estate mogul Mickey (Eric Roberts), from going into an insane asylum. The plot to chuck him in the looney bin is conspired by both Mickey’s current wife and his wife’s boy-toy. But as Doc begins searching for leads and clues, he’s then roped into finding one of Mickey’s bodyguards as well. And as soon as he starts work on that case, he becomes mixed up in a murder case. The storyline just continues to build and build on Doc’s piled up cases - constantly throwing in more plots to juggle from upper class drug dealers to strange religious cults.
Doc spends most of the film stoned as do we in how the events are presented. The film is an endless series of various actors intersecting the plot, adding layers upon layers to this strange world. Josh Brolin plays a no-nonsense police detective acting as Doc’s strange rival. He’s disgusted by the hippie culture, obsessed with phallic snacks and allured by a Japanese restaurant’s pancakes (“Motto panucaku!”). Owen Wilson plays an undercover agent who speaks in the shadows of conspiracies and his past life. Martin Short play a wealthy business owner who doubles as the most wacky drug dealer. All of them dole out information from scene to scene in textured dialogue that grows increasingly hard to follow as a cross between a Hunter Thompson tale and The Big Lebowski.
In the great tradition of stoner films, Inherent Vice is a mess of characters and events. Some characters meet and some events intersect, sometimes three or four at a time. Other times none of them have anything remotely to do with one another - some left on the shelf as unresolved arcs. It could be considered a wild ride if it weren’t for the fact that the entire film is comprised of conversations that stroll in and out of the story, becoming lost in their own wordplay. There are some murders, some sex and other strange events that occur, but most are brief and off screen as we try to keep up with Doc tossing himself around this tapestry of intriguing developments (or at least seemingly intriguing). Or are certain parts of this just a hippie’s hallucination? Damned if I know and damned if Doc does either. We’re both just passengers on this warped little journey.
This is one of those movies that is very hard to describe and even harder to form an opinion on. I relate this film on a similar level to Roger Corman’s The Trip in which Peter Fonda does some acid, finding himself struggling and stumbling around town in a daze. You’re not quite sure what you’re seeing and what it’s connecting towards or building to. It’s just plain weird. What I can say for sure is that I dug the characters of Inherent Vice and its farce of a script. Anderson makes most every player a memorable one and provides them a stylish enough canvas to work with. There’s nothing quite so grand as in The Trip when Dennis Hopper dons a robe on a mountain, but still solid set pieces nonetheless.
I never recommend that a film is enhanced while under an influence, but Inherent Vice dares me to think otherwise. This is stoner storytelling on hard mode the way it flows from one subject to another with minute fragments of continuity here and there. The dialogue is kept very vague and much too deep for anyone who is a square. I tend to dig on poetic passages of dialogue, but this script just goes overboard with its fascination at dressing up a detective story with 70’s counter-culture phrasing. It’s a film best not to dwell on too long and just enjoy the segmented performances of an all-star cast. It’ll make the two and a half hour running time go by much faster.