Inherent Vice

WRITTEN BY: Paul Thomas Anderson
DIRECTED BY: Paul Thomas Anderson
STARRING: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson
RATING: 2.5 stars

Based on Thomas Pynchon's novel and set in the 1970s, Inherent Vice is about drugged-up private detective Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), who is visited at home one night by his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston). She tells him about her new rich lover, Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), and asks Sportello to help foil a plot by Mickey's wife and her boyfriend to have Mickey committed to an insane asylum. A short time later, Mickey and Shasta go missing, prompting Sportello to look into the case. During his investigation, Sportello meets several strange people including a shady musician (Owen Wilson) and a creepy dentist (Martin Short). Sportello is also dogged by Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin). As Sportello explores further, he starts to uncover a deep and dark conspiracy.

I really wanted to like Inherent Vice, but not even the amazing performances led by the awesomely eccentric Phoenix could save the film from skewing all over the place. It did not grab my attention at all and left me wondering if I had missed something. I kept expecting all the loose ends to tie together in the end, but after two-and-a-half hours they were still left hanging there. It felt like a B-grade Quentin Tarantino film. I am not sure how such a well accomplished writer/director like Paul Thomas Anderson could have messed it up so badly. At least he gave us the brief reunion of Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon who still have great chemistry. In fact, Phoenix is also well-paired with Brolin who is bizarre and hilarious in this film. I would enjoy a buddy film with them. Meanwhile, Waterston is sexy and mysterious, Short is humorous but also incredibly sleazy, and Wilson appears randomly in scenes and remains enigmatic. Several other big names also feature but they are all given so little to do, including Maya Rudolph and Benecio Del Toro. Inherent Vice feels like a long acid trip with so little meaning that it becomes frustrating and boring, rather than insightful and compelling.