Inherent Vice Is Inherently Broken

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed.The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of or its management.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. (This is a legal requirement, as apparently some sites advertise for Amazon for free. Yes, that's sarcasm.)

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
StumbleUpon icon icon
Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Inherent Vice opens Jan 9, 2015

Joaquin Phoenix. Benicio Del Toro. Josh Brolin. Reese Witherspoon. Martin Short. Sounds like a cast that could be quite entertaining, doesn’t it? You have Oscar candidates and winners here, established star power. Add director Paul Thomas Anderson of “Boogie Nights” fame and a script based on a novel by popular author Thomas Pynchon. This has “can’t miss Hollywood blockbuster” written all over it, right?

Wrong! “Inherent Vice” misses on every level. This film should only be seen by students studying the art of filmmaking to illustrate what they should avoid doing if they want to succeed. I hardly know where to begin describing this plodding disaster. I’ll sum it up for you in case you have better films to look up today: it’s a little bit “the Big Lebowski,” a whole lot of “Dazed and Confused,” and a healthy shot of “L.A. Confidential,” but the sum of those parts is completely unwatchable. Forty five minutes into this mess moviegoers and film critics alike started heading for the exits.

I’ll be the first to admit that stoner humor leaves me flat. It’s barely funny to me in small doses, and movies built around it are completely uninteresting to me. Joaquin Phoenix plays a chain-smoking private dick named Doc who apparently shares his investigations office with a doctor’s office—if he was in any way a legit doctor or not was either never explained or done so poorly that I missed it. He takes a case brought to him by his ex-girlfriend/wife/whatever (Katherine Waterson) to find the missing sugar daddy she’d been shagging since she left him, and the doped-up dope agrees to it! I should have left right then and caught whatever was playing on the next screen over. Doc follows up on vague, highly unlikely leads and eventually winds up in an odd partnership with Bigfoot, this weird cop who eats chocolate bananas like a gay porn star. Legal eagle Reese Witherspoon slums down to his level for some nookie and weed but otherwise serves very little purpose to the proceedings. Benicio Del Toro is a maritime lawyer who does some pro bono representation and legwork for Doc. Martin Short has a short cameo as a drug-addled dentist/sex addict. Did I mention that Owen Wilson is caught up in this too as a police informant hiding in a private mental institution and is afraid to go home to his fellow heroin fiend wife, played by Jena Malone, because together they are horrible for each other, never mind their daughter? Confused? You should have seen the expression on Doc’s face the whole time. He looked like an amnesic cross between Wolverine and Hunter S. Thompson wearing some stuff from a John Lennon yard sale. My expression was almost certainly similar to Wolverine just before he goes full-on berserker mode.

I’m not sure this is a spoiler because I’m relatively certain that “Inherent Vice” actually doesn’t have any plot whatsoever, so there’s nothing to spoil by telling you that the whole case turns into the snake that eats itself. Doc finds the missing sugar daddy (Eric Roberts, naturally) lounging at the same facility that Owen Wilson is hiding at. The ex-chick shows up again, gets naked, tells Doc all the sordid, messed up sex she was having with the sugar daddy, his wife, their friends, mansion staff and colleagues, and more or less admits there never really was a case at all. They have about 90 seconds of sex and their back together. I can believe in angels, demons, magic, mutants, Gods, frozen soldiers, cyborgs, dragons, you name it, but I can’t for a second believe this imbecile would take this nasty whore back. Worse, he still goes about tying up loose ends to this non-case for another 30-40 minutes! Seriously, I think if you watched this movie stoned to the stars it wouldn’t make any more sense than it does stone cold straight. There is virtually no action; it’s just two people sitting or standing and talking, scene after scene after scene. The dialogue is whispered half the time and unintelligible the rest of the time. My biggest pet peeve in movies is when they shoehorn the title into the dialogue. I absolutely hate that. I mean, sure, you’re not going to do “Annie” without saying her name. Here, they mention “Inherent Vice” as a total non sequitur. When it comes up Doc’s hooker says, “What’s that mean?” He says, “Uhhhh…I dunno.” There’s this throwaway character that occasionally hangs out with Doc and offers a few deus ex machina explanations throughout the movie and she gives a dry, dictionary-like definition. AAARGGH! I swear if I was sixteen again I’d have grabbed the nearest bladder-buster sized $25 cup of over-iced Mr. Pibb and thrown it at the screen like Dan Marino to Mark Clayton at that point. Hell, it’s been five days and this damn movie still pisses me off with its endless barrage of stupidity.

I’ve never read Thomas Pynchon but I know his work is frequently on the best-seller list. I happened to be at a bookstore a day after watching this waste of film. I flipped through it and randomly stopped to read a page. It read and sounded just like the film. The thing is, I bet if I read the book I may not like or really even get the stoner mentality, but I’d probably understand the story better and like at least a few of the characters more. I really feel like something absolutely vital—the Rosetta stone for this film, if you will—was left out. Paul Thomas Anderson failed completely in this effort. It’s a shame because it’s the first time a Pynchon novel has been made into a movie. Maybe this wasn’t the best choice for his first adaptation? You could say Phoenix and perhaps Brolin do decent work, but is it really that hard to play clueless? The best actor in the film might be Michelle Sinclair, better known as Belladonna (do not google her at work!), an award-winning adult actress who, like porn legend Nina Hartley in Anderson’s “Boogie Nights,” absolutely steals her scene. She may, somewhat surprisingly, have a future in mainstream Hollywood. If you’re that interested, wait a couple of days and I’m sure her scene will be on the internet if it’s not already. And no, she isn’t nude in it either. Those kinds of scenes are already all over the internet. Save your money and nearly three hours of your life and skip “Inherent Vice.” Perhaps the next director who films a Pynchon story will do it justice. 

0.5 / 5.0