Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
"Inherent Vice" by auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master) and based on a Thomas Pynchon novel, seems to try too hard to be all things at once. While its scope is kaleidoscopic in keeping with the author's whirling prose, on film it feels noisy, loose and all over the place.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a hippie private detective who spends his days rolling around in a horizontal position with a haze of pot smoke that hovers around him like a Cheech & Chong Peanuts cartoon. As a caricature or stereotype, he is quite compelling, speaking in an offhand stream-of consciousness mumble a bit like Marlon Brando. In a droopy hat and maroon shirt, Doc is a noodle in paisley, his legs and arms seeming to bend and sway like asparagus.
Doc is knocked into action by his ex-girl Shasta (Katherine Waterston) who tells him of a plot to derail real estate mogul Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) by institutionalizing him. The tycoon, for some reason is associating with neo-nazis, despite being jewish. While this is played for laughs, it isn't all that funny.
Doc agrees to check it out. The next day, he is approached by Tariq ( Michael K. Williams) a Black Guerrilla Family member who wants revenge on a Aryan Brotherhood bodyguard, one Glen Charlock (Christopher Allen Nelson).
Doc agrees to investigate that too.
Finding himself near a massage parlor, Doc ventures inside in the hope of finding a lead, after a masseuse emerges from the mural depicting the genitalia of a naked lady, our man mañana is knocked unconscious.
He wakes up next to the body of a mutilated Charlock.
What emerges is a kind of picaresque tale with lots of odd babble, quirky characters and silliness, and if that's your bag you'll have a good trip, but with so many pipes and cogs in such a big hallucinogenic wheel, fitting it all together proved too taxing an acid test, especially at two hours and thirty minutes.
Owen Wilson is a strung out rock musician who mumbles about Golden Fang, a heroin-smunggling ship. Josh Brolin plays Bigfoot, a cement faced rival detective. Reese Witherspoon is a district attorney girlfriend who despite some amorous talk doesn't seem to have much chemistry with Phoenix's slurred verbiage.
Last but not least, Martin Short is thrown in as a horny Dr Feelgood.
Every character does silly things without much motivation and while this would be appropriate matter in illustrating a psilocybin-stitched 70s, it feels slow and labored, akin to the Cheech Marin films in the 80's. Bigfoot eats an entire bowl of pot after demolishing an apartment door.
Such antics have a cold deja vu feel.
What the film does do well is its encapsulation of the 70s as a period. Everyone is socked in a heavy lethargy as the waxen face of Nixon, a scary cave-faced man is ubiquitous. The film's most comedic moments are the instances of Bigfoot's oral fixation and the idea that this harsh drill sergeant of a man is ruled by his dominatrix wife along with everyone referring to Doc as a poor or cute "little hippie" in the mode of an animated Robert Crumb comic.
"Inherent Vice" could be a cult film as the post modern decades go by with its madcap episodes that roll out of nowhere, but as a noir tale it feels too reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen to have some of the original pop and bang that it appears to aim for at its end.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org