Inherent Vice, 2014, 1 ½ stars

Intolerable Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film is his worst

Inherent Vice

Image copyright IAC Films/Warner Brothers

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, January 6, 2015

The failures of great artists hurt far worse than the shortcomings of schmucks. And Paul Thomas Anderson is a great artist, wowing us with works such as There Will be Blood and Boogie Nights. Even his lesser films like The Master, Punch-Drunk Love and Magnolia left an aesthetic mark. That’s why his latest crime-comedy amounts to not just a thumbs-down, but a thumbs-down-my-throat in an attempt to barf it from my brain.

Inherent Vice is set in 1970 Los Angeles and strives for a Raymond Chandler vibe, by way of Cheech and Chong. Anderson, who wrote the screenplay from the Thomas Pynchon novel, actually admitted so, adding that he was even hoping for some Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker lunacy too. With so many influences, it’s no surprise that there are enormous problems with tone, such as when the director launches from subtle comedy, to slapstick, to mystery, to awkward love scene bordering on rape. But the real disasters are the runtime of almost two-and-a-half hours and the nonsensical plot, which defy explanation on first viewing – as if you’d want to suffer through it twice.

Joaquin Phoenix is somewhat engaging in the lead role of Doc Sportello, a private investigator hoping to solve the mysterious disappearances of his ex-girlfriend, her current boyfriend (a real-estate tycoon) and other people who may be dead, or involved in a cult, or smuggling drugs. Or something like that. It’s really more about Doc’s daily quests to figure out what the hell is going on with his friends and acquaintances while smoking as much weed as he can in the process. Spoiler: He never truly finds out, and neither do we.

Even a bad Anderson film is never dull or unoriginal, and this is no exception. Its quirkiness keeps it interesting for a while, but soon the endless introductions of pointless characters and the unimpactful, confusing plot twists make the viewing experience almost intolerable. Josh Brolin (as Detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen) and Benicio del Toro (as Doc’s friend and lawyer) are both memorable, but that doesn’t make up for the project’s muddle and misplaced, half-hearted ambitions of comedic greatness. Its dialogue is both over- and under-written (if that’s possible), the music is intrusive, and the annoying voiceover narration has more vocal fry that KFC. So by the time an unfunny Owen Wilson, an underused Reese Witherspoon and an admittedly amusing, scene-stealing Martin Short show up, the movie has devolved into intolerable tedium and pointless exercises in style over substance.

“Inherent vice” in a marine insurance policy means anything that can’t be avoided. Thankfully, this film can be avoided, and I strongly suggest you do so. For when Bigfoot requests that Doc “remind me why I give a shit,” I longed to leap from my seat, accost Anderson and speak that same line to him.

Copyright 2015 © Cameron Meier