As a diehard Paul Thomas Anderson fan looking forward to his upcoming film, I bought Thomas Pynchon’s book a year ago and eagerly started reading it… then gave up less than halfway through. Still, I figured Anderson would manage to make “Inherent Vice” feel less pointless and uninvolving than on paper. Unfortunately, the big screen adaptation bored me nearly as much as the original novel.
What we have here is a neo-noir farce about Doc Sportello (a mumbling Joaquin Phoenix), a pothead private investigator in 1970 California who looks into the disappearance of various people, some of whom may have been kidnapped, some of whom may be dead, some of whom may just not want to be found. Doc runs into a varied bunch of individuals: cops, Nazis, dentists, surf musicians, pussy eaters… “Beware the Golden Fang!”, he’s told, whatever that is.
This might sound like a fun ride, but it really isn’t. Unlike any of PTA’s previous pictures, this is an oddly flat, lifeless experience, an overlong series of dull scenes in which a lot of folks talk about a lot of other folks. There’s a lot of wacky and/or vulgar stuff thrown in, none of which I found particularly amusing (I literally didn’t laugh once).
The storytelling is loose, messy and self-indulgent, following the film’s dopey protagonist as he runs around aimlessly. Fueled by “paranoid hippie bullshit”, Doc is all like, “Who?”, “Huh?”, “Where?”, “What the fuck?”
Now, I liked some touches, e.g. Joanna Newsom as the on and off screen narrator, the scattered appearances of Katherine Waterston as Doc’s sexy, mysterious ex-girlfriend or the Martin Short sequence, a rare instance where the movie’s hallucinatory, paranoid quality pays off.
I should also acknowledge that the film is well shot by Robert Elswit and that it features some groovy songs, in addition to another great spooky score by Jonny Greenwood. Oh, and the cast, which also includes the likes of Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro and Jena Malone, is great, even though they’re all playing one-dimensional caricatures caught in an incoherent plot.
Ultimately, I really wanted to enjoy “Inherent Vice”, but for me, it was a bad trip.