By Laurie Coker
Inherent Vice is even more bizarre than Joaquin Phoenix’s Her. Phoenix, who has once retired from acting, likes to choose challenging, unusual roles. In his most recent movie Inherent Vice, his character Larry “Doc” Sportello, a pot smoking private eye, is outlandish – but not nearly as peculiar as the other sordid characters and as director/co-writer Paul Thomas Anderson seemingly drug-hazed, crime saga.
Set in seedy Los Angeles in the 1970s, Inherent Vice (adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s novel), follows Doc as he attempts to uncover the roots behind the disappearance of his former girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterson), just after she shows up for a one-night-stand with him. Sex appears to be a deposit on his services to find her missing boyfriend, the married mogul Mickey Wolfmann, but then she goes missing too. While searching for the pair, Doc takes on other cases – including a presumed-dead musician (Owen Wilson), the murder of one of Mickey’s bodyguards, and a mysterious Indo-Chinese drug syndicate called the Golden Fang. He visits mansions and drug dens, massage parlors and police departments – all looking for people for no pay. If this sounds crazy and convoluted, it is because it is crazy and convoluted.
Andersen’s story, or should I say Pychon’s, takes Doc around some disgusting people, drugs and murder. Messy, muddled and maddening, nothing is ever solved or resolved and subplots only serve to make matters more frustrating. Meandering though the multiple storylines, even Doc gets lost, and he gets little help from LAPD detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), who is at times antagonist and others confidant. All of this is narrated by a character, which appears to have little connection to anything and is barely seen. It truly is a bit like looking at a scene in fog filled room – shadowy, smelly and sleazy. Perhaps a little “fog” might have made it better. This I wouldn’t know.
Ultimately, Andersen’s film falters in more ways than one. Waiting through the two-hour and twenty minute movie, ends in disappointment. It’s a series of long drawn out dialogues and mostly dull characters. It is Phoenix who holds the mess together. Most of the trailer’s promised humor is lost in the tedium of the tale. Phoenix garners a few chuckles, as does Brolin, but Andersen wastes the balance of the players and its a good cast. Phoenix almost makes it worth watching, but not quite. I even considered seeing it again in hopes of catching something missed, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Inherent Vice earns a lukewarm grade of D+/C- from me, not lower because of its star.