Only with a Pynchon of Salt
For good reason no one had dared try to do a film from a Thomas Pynchon novel. Until now, when Paul Thomas Anderson screenwrites and directs Inherent Vice, world premičre Centerpiece at the New York Film Festival.
The reason is that, aside from those who have not fully left behind their doobie days of half-a-hundred years ago, not that many actually read all the way through the author’s massive cult novels, while fewer still come out understanding or remembering anything. Some who almost immediately braved the hundred-forty-eight-minute movie a freebie second time claim to have seen the light, a pattern emerging on that second go-round because they were not looking for one and thus, not concentrating, could recognize, for example, Owen Wilson’s Coy Harlingen even prior to his gracing a hippie Last Supper smoke-around. At today’s ticket prices, it is hardly recommendable that anyone else try, not even once.
The wannabe early 1970s noir is Chinatown on dope, laced with flat stoner humor and exaggerated facile satire of anything to the right of Timothy Leary and his Flashbacks. Not that, with drug deaths alarmingly on the rise and Tales of the Grim Sleeper’s destitute South Central Los Angeles racked by crack cocaine, there should be anything remotely funny in the subject.
Paranoia is both portrayed and incarnated in the movie, for psychedelia, flowers and love have given way to Cielo Drive, Nam, riots and live on-camera assassination in an America so dark that so all alone everybody must get stoned is the only way to face it. Female voiceover narration tries to clue us in from sporadic time to time, but in theory interlocking complexities are beyond telling or showing or comprehending. Or caring.
Unkempt muttonchopped Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a seedy beachfront investigator of loan defaulters who carries a torch for disappeared ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). She resurfaces and has, it seems, been more than joined at the hip to older SoCal developer Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). This “Westside Hochdeutsch Mafioso Jew’s” zillions of shekels have tempted wife Sloane and her muscleman “spiritual adviser” (Serena Scott Thomas, Andrew Simpson) to hatch “some creepy little scheme” to commit him to a New Age-y loony bin-cum-drying out/rehab center peopled with musical mystical monkish figures.
This, and a tortuous path of intimidations and murders -- enter Aryan Brotherhood-type bikers and baseball bat-happy hatchet man Adrian Prussia (Peter McRobbie) -- leads to a junk laden with junk operated by the maybe non-existent but anyway insidiously inscrutable Golden Fang. Drugs rot teeth and fangs, so there must also be a consortium of dentists with porn-movie-fantasy nurses headed up by pervert lecher Rudy Blatnoyd, D.D.S. (Martin Short).
Doc morphs for a few seconds into an action hero, matches wits and collaborates with stereotype phallic popsicle-sucking LAPD Det. Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), and finds some connection in a promise given to ex-addict tenor sax maestro and secret stoolie Harlingen.
The confusion on the ground, in the air, and in the mind is so thick with smoke and mirrors that reality and illusion are not different the one from the other in the foggy smoggy purple haze. If one enjoys this sort of thing, then toke up, giggle and go for it. The majority rest will be advised to stick to straightforward stuff like The Big Sleep and Finnegans Wake.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated "R" for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.)