Inherent Vice

MPAA Rating: R

Entertainment: +1

Content: -4

Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon. Comedy/crime/drama. Written & directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

FILM SYNOPSIS: In 1970, drug-fueled Los Angeles detective Larry "Doc" Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend in this convoluted nourish crime drama.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Nonlinear is one thing, but I can only imagine that viewing this hippy-dippy detective thriller is the equivalent of a bad 1970s acid trip. Though you would expect a film critic to be impressed with the prospect of seeing something fresh amid a jungle of Seth Rogan comedies and Marvel superhero histrionics, Inherent Vice failed to impress me on any level. It’s not really all that fresh (Chinatown and The Two Jakes tackled the same detective genre with style, and Sin City sent up the genre with an audacious flair). Inherent Vice is just incoherent. Is this another joke from prankster Phoenix, who once told the press he was retiring?

The picture does capture the griminess of the hippy world of that era. (Evidently no one bathed in that community and those with the blackest soles must have been the heroes of the “love generation.”) But it’s hard to portray one of their own as a modern-day hero. Their antiestablishment anthem “make love not war” was silenced by an overall self-centered do-nothingness. Overall, they contributed nothing, and in the end, they either outgrew their pot-fueled lifestyle and became capitalists, or still live in that purple haze, or overdosed, leaving a legacy of smelly sandals and a few un-smoked joints.

It has a good cast, but they’re given little that challenges them or us. Though I suspect Joaquin Phoenix is in real life anything but, he sure is drawn to crazy character parts. And while the detective film noir usually has a sleaze and excess backdrop, and generally has a complex and confusing plotline, Inherent Vice seems bent on keeping us in the same muddled state as its protagonist.

Once again, I’ll have to leave it to the Bard’s Macbeth; “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

DVD Alternatives: The Third Man. 4-star film noir thriller about a manipulative expatriate Harry Lime (Orson Welles) during the Cold War. Brilliant filmmaking.

The Maltese Falcon. Humphrey Bogart stars as sardonic shamus Sam Spade working for a sneaky seductress in perhaps the best detective film ever made.

Or you could stay home and read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.

“What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn’t have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. His heart was a brief, uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too, like Rusty Regan, would be sleeping the big sleep.”

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Warner Bros.

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: Crude sexual terms throughout.

Obscene Language: Fifty or so obscenities, mostly the f-word.

Profanity: I caught no misuse of God’s name – wow, how’d that happen?

Violence: The L.A. police, according to this film, were as abusive as common hoods, mistreating hippies whenever possible; we see a couple of dead and bloodied bodies.

Sex: There’s a great deal of sexuality, both in crudely put dialogue and in one graphic and rough sexual situation.

Nudity: A female is completely nude in one scene and we see crude and graphic pictures of a nude woman.

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: None

Drugs: Smoking, drinking and lots and lots of drug use throughout.

Other: Much of the drug use and several crude situations are played for laughs, but by film’s end, you feel nearly as grimy as the lead’s feet.

Running Time: 148 minutes
Intended Audience: Adults

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