“Inherent Vice” is writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to 2012’s overrated “The Master”. The only appreciation I had for that film were the performances of stars Joaquin Phoenix and particularly the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The rest was an unfocused and overly complicated mess. That same description can be used to describe “Inherent Vice”, which is a long and flat-out ridiculous crime dramedy.
“Inherent Vice”, the first big screen adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, is set in 1970 Los Angeles. Phoenix re-teams with Anderson to play Doc Sportello. He’s a hippie Private Eye who is juggling several cases at once, but they all revolve around missing real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann.
However, Anderson’s screenplay is so overstuffed with goofy characters and showy dialogue that “Inherent Vice” is not only hard to follow along with the plot, after awhile you just don’t care. A lot of Anderson’s “style” is for effect. The atmosphere of the story is designed to reflect the atmosphere of the times in early 70s L.A.: Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll – and “Inherent Vice” is filled with all three. But none of it ever seems natural. Scenes are included, lines are delivered, characters are introduced simply to shock. The narrative is so all over the place that I suspect the female narrator used throughout was a late addition, an attempt to explain Doc’s motives at least a little bit. However, her lines are so poorly written, this device just makes things worse.
Phoenix is on screen in practically every scene, and I do give him credit for staying with this role for the entire time. I realize “Inherent Vice” is set in the 70s, but constant drug use by his character goes way beyond believable. And don’t expect Phoenix to get any awards attention. Josh Brolin leads the all-star supporting cast as an LAPD cop named “Bigfoot”, who has a love/hate relationship with Doc. Other oddball characters are played by Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Maya Rudolph, Eric Roberts, and Martin Short, as a drugged-out/sex friend and dentist who provides the only laugh-out-loud moment in the entire film when he explodes with a series of F-bombs.
The main problem with “Inherent Vice” is that it tries way too hard to be quirky and funny. This is the latest attempt, by yet another director, to make the next “Pulp Fiction”, which set the standard for it’s combing elements of a crime drama with comedy, shocking violence, wacky characters, drugs, sex, over-the-top atmosphere and pop culture. Anderson proves he’s no Quentin Tarantino when it comes to this unique genre. Even his signature, bold camera shots are few and far between, relying, instead, on way too many close-ups.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Inherent Vice” gets a D+. Pointless and, at 2 1/2 hours, way too long. A better title for this movie would be “Incoherent Vice”.