Cinema Review: Inherent Vice | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, July 6th, 2020  

Inherent Vice

Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Dec 12, 2014 Web Exclusive
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When the term comes up in conversation between Joaquin Phoenix's Wolverine-esque "Doc" Sportello and Katherine Waterston's Shasta Fay, it goes like this:

Doc: "What is 'Inherent Vice'?"

Shasta Fay: "I don't know..."

It's dialogue that must've seemed funny while filming, but in hindsight is a decent catch-all summation of Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, Inherent Vice. There are perks to the overly-convenient detective-mystery / road-trip-through-Hell adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel, but ultimately this smugly bizarre, pot-cloud fogged tour through 1970s set-design and haircuts wanders from given clue to given clue and never really finds its tone.

Joaquin Phoenix is "Doc" Sportello, a hippie scum private eye investigating a twisted series of cases that feature Nazis, drugs, cults, crooked cops,dentists, and worse. "Doc" is surrounded by two-or-more-faced characters that alternately use, confuse, and aid him; Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Benicio Del Toro, Jillian Bell, Joanna Newsom, and Eric Roberts (fresh off of David DeCouteau's Bigfoot Vs. D.B. Cooper and A Talking Cat!?) being a good sampling of the great acting talent that casting director Cassandra Kulukundis has assembled. There's frequent mention of the Manson Family, but their headline-grabbing 1970 status and relevance -- Inherent Vice has a theme of cults and cult-leaders throughout -- feels wasted and unrelated.  

The permeating bizarreness here isn't unlike Anderson's Punch Drunk Love, but fails to be a virtue for Inherent Vice, save for the aforementioned perks. Martin Short shows up deep into the film as Dr. Blatnoyd, a portrayal and character that instantly start giving the film the flavor it needs, only to disappear quickly.  Short noticeably blends in some Jiminy Glick to his Blatnoyd, creating a confusing, creepy, and laugh-out-loud weirdness that's missed sorely after his brief screen-time.  Anderson's wife Maya Rudolph has a cameo-role, and Belladonna also shows up for a moment.  Martin Donovan appears very near the film's end, giving a great and very seriously-played performance that again has some weight to it that's otherwise absent here.  The true seediness that could've made it work is absent.  Overall, for a movie with so much apparent "vice", Inherent Vice is surprisingly boring.

Author rating: 5/10

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