You don’t have to be stoned to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s laconic adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s pulpy crime mystery, but I suspect it would ease the tedium. Read on…
Set in (fictional) Gordita Beach in the 1970s, the meandering narrative revolves around stoner Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a private-eye who works out of what looks like a medical office.
Whisperingly narrated by a flower child observer, Sortilege (singer/songwriter Joanna Newsom), it tells the story of Doc’s ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston, daughter of actor Sam), who’s involved with Mickey Wolfman (Eric Roberts), a rich real-estate developer. Both mysteriously disappear.
Along with the consumption of lots of weed, there’s the mysterious Golden Fang, an Indo-Chinese drug cartel, and a coke-snorting dentist (Martin Short). Although he’s presumed dead, tenor sax player Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) is very much alive, although he’s not who you think he is.
Dazed Doc’s nemesis is Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), a square-jawed, buzz-cut LAPD cop who moonlights as a TV actor and celebrity pitchman. Plus there are oddball hustlers, dopers, rockers, cultists and white supremacists, played by Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Jenna Malone, Maya Rudolph and Martin Short, among others.
Problem is: writer/director/producer Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia”) never ties together the many bizarre, inconsequential fragments, including a surreal scene of hippies eating pizza, staged as homage to “The Last Supper.”
Wearing a bushy afro, greasy sideburns and sunglasses, Joaquin Phoenix’s intensely addled Doc seems to be tripping out on Jeff Bridges’ Dude from “The Big Lebowski.”
“You can only cruise the boulevards of regrets so far,” one character observes – and I suspect you’ll regret that you ever stumbled in to try to make sense of this murky two-hours and 28-minutes.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Inherent Vice” is a hollow, pointless 2. A better title would have been “Incoherent Vice.”