Inherent Vice

Directed by:  Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Sasha Pieterse, Jena Malone, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, and Martin Short

As the credits rolled at the end of Inherent Vice, the patrons in my audience remained in their seats, confused and uncertain.  After two and a half hours of the hippie detective dramedy, we were left wondering what it is we had just seen and what, if anything, we were supposed to take away from the film.  Inherent Vice has a lot of promise, but never quite delivers.

Based on a 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice is set in California in 1970. “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private detective and a hippie who enjoys dope.  Doc is incredibly mild mannered and a seemingly nice guy whose intelligence allows him to solve mysteries despite being high.  Doc’s former girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) shows up at his house with a dilemma.  Shasta Fay (Let’s pause for a second to appreciate the awesomeness of that name) is having an affair with real estate mogul Michael Wolfmann (Eric Roberts).  Wolfmann is an eccentric Jewish millionaire who surrounds himself with members of the Aryan nation. Wolfmann’s wife is plotting to have Wolfmann committed to a mental institution so that she can take all of his money, and she wants Shasta to join in on the plot.  Shasta asks Doc to look into the situation discretely as she fears for her safety.

Soon after Doc’s visit with Shasta, Doc is asked to investigate another matter involving Wolfmann by a member of a militant Black organization.  When Doc visits a “massage” parlor to look into one of Wolfmann’s bodyguards, he is knocked unconscious.  When he wakes up, Wolfmann’s bodyguard is dead, and Wolfmann and Shasta are missing.  Detective Bjornsen a.k.a. Bigfoot (Josh Brolin) suspects that Doc is somehow involved in the disappearance.  Bigfoot hates hippies, has a lot of rage and routinely enjoys eating penis shaped fruit.  Bigfoot releases Doc, but keeps him on a short lease.  What follows is the tale of Doc and his adventures as he crosses California barefoot trying to uncover the mystery behind Shasta and Wolfmann’s disappearances.

Inherent Vice is in part a detective story, a love story, a social commentary, and a comedy.  I have mixed emotions about Inherent Vice.  On the one hand, the cast is incredible and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.  Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely perfect in the lead role.  He plays Doc with heart, love, a foggy intelligence and humor.  When the film stumbles, it is still interesting to watch Phoenix wander around Los Angeles getting into one crazy situation after the next.  Josh Brolin also delivers an over the top performance, and his character Bigfoot is probably the most interesting and bizarre character in the entire film. Moreover, the cast bench is so deep, I found myself wondering what actor was going to pop up next. From Reese Witherspoon to Owen Wilson to Benicio Del Toro, different actors delivered quirky performances.

Additionally, there are a number of hilarious moments in this offbeat film.  Phoenix has great comedic timing.  His humorous interactions with other actors and the biting wit of the narrator delivered some of the best moments of the film.

With that being said, Inherent Vice is all over the place.  There is a vaguely cohesive story in that Phoenix’s character is attempting to find his missing girlfriend and her married lover.  However, the story goes on so many different tangents, that the tale becomes incredibly confusing and increasingly absurd.  If director Paul Thomas Anderson was attempting to make viewers feel the disorientation that is brought on by drugs, he accomplished his goal.

I was engaged in the story for about an hour and a half.  But the film was too long, and it stalled in places and became quite tedious.  The smart, fun dialogue that drove the beginning of the film faded.  Eventually, I lost interest in following the plot.  I lost interest in the characters, and I lost interest in trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Inherent Vice started with so much promise, but it never really went anywhere.

Inherent Vice earns a 0.06% rating.  Have a Corona with this one.  I salute Paul Thomas Anderson for attempting something different.  Despite having a number of golden moments, ultimately Inherent Vice is simply incoherent.