Two confessions need to be made right from the start of this review: I don't worship the ground Paul Thomas Anderson walks on and I am not one to smoke pot. Inherent Vice (opening today) though, is a bullet-proof winning achievement for anyone who falls into either category. For everyone else, it's a jumbled drug-trip of epic proportions, the perfect film to put on to keep your cat entertained as a kaleidoscope of colors, themes and scenes are swirled together to create a grandiose heap of pretentious moving sludge.
2 out of 5 stars
A third confession: I've never read the source material, the book of the same name by author Thomas Pynchon, so maybe I'm not the target audience. The story is set in early 1970s Los Angeles, and paints the town as a sleazy, drug-riddled underbelly that may have very well been a fair representation. Joaquin Phoenix plays a private eye, Doc Sportello, who gets entangled in a series of interwoven cases all at once, smoking pot at all times. His flower-child ex-lover, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), confronts Doc to let him know that her current married lover, the real estate tycoon Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), may be the target of a murder-extortion plot that she's involved in. Then there is the suspicous LAPD detective and Doc's former rival, Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) investigating some sort of murder closely linked to the Wolfmann case. Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) hires Doc to investigate whether or not her husband Coy (Owen Wilson) is still alive. And so on and so on, ad nauseam.
Many colorful characters pop in and out of the story, many with cartoonish names like Benicio Del Toro's Sauncho Smilax, or Sasha Pieterse's Japonica Fenway, or Martin Short's coke-snorting Dr. Blatnoyd. The film doesn't aim to be profound...it doesn't really aim at all. It just exists, hoping that you will chuckle along, Beavis and Butthead-style.
Once you realize - about two hours into this 148 minute picture - that the plot isn't all that important and that this is meant to be some sort of bumbling comedy, it's quite frustrating to say the least. These aren't real characters, nobody does anything remotely exciting, and genuine emotional ground is not explored. This is a film meant to be "washed over you" they will say...a "go with the flow" endeavor for those yearning for an outside-the-box experience. It's not that a square can't relate to the hippy-trippy atmosphere that Paul Thomas Anderson creates, it's just that it isn't all that interesting.
Speaking of the famed director, his artistic "vision" is often defended in the most foolish of ways: You either "get" PTA or you are just an uneducated buffoon. Again, those who idolize the director aren't looking for real criticism anyways...if you're reading this as a lover of all things PT Anderson, you're probably just here to shout from the comment boards about how clueless I am for missing the point. If you're not "that guy," then you should be able to notice glaring issues with the film's all-over-the-map tone and style.
So therefore, I challenge anyone reading this: What is the point of Inherent Vice? Please tell me. Paul Thomas Anderson creates another visual masterpiece, as he has done many times, even as recently as The Master, but once again he chooses to go off the beaten path with a narrative that defies intelligent thought and dares us not to engage. This is not a character study, or even all that effective in building memorable characters, like his There Will Be Blood. I suspect there isn't even a deeper metaphoric meaning, like those wondering why frogs began to rain down at the end of Magnolia. It's not that Inherent Vice doesn't live up to his existing filmography. No, it's not good all on its own.
Anderson has successfully made a movie so incoherent, it makes Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - a film that matches Inherent Vice in both tone and theme - look like an exercise in orderliness.
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours 28 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Martin Short, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph
Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon
Adapted and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia, Boogie Nights)
Opens locally on Friday, Jan 9, 2014
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