Inherent Vice is an enjoyable mess from director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson. The plot is secondary to the film’s characters and the amusing things they do and say.
It’s 1970. Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a longhaired pot-smoking hippie L.A. private detective who gets a surprise visit from old girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston). Her newest flame, it turns out, is a married guy whose wife and the wife’s boyfriend are trying to get him out of the picture to get his money. Shasta wants Doc to find out what’s up.
The missing boyfriend is sleazy real estate developer Michael Wolfman (Eric Roberts) whose latest project is a subdivision ridiculously located next to L.A.’s concrete irrigation canal. When Doc goes to check it out, he finds a massage parlor where the menu of services is clearly posted on the wall.
The story brings in many players including LAPD Lieutenant Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (James Brolin) who has some hilarious moments onscreen. His enjoyment of chocolate covered bananas provides some of Inherent Vice’s humor.
Also in the cast is Martin Short as Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd, a dentist who is handling money for other dentists in a company called the Golden Fang. Benecio Del Toro appears as Doc’s attorney. Reese Witherspoon plays an assistant D.A. who is another of Doc’s gal pals. Owen Wilson is Coy Harlingen, a musician with shady connections. Maya Rudolph has a role as a receptionist with the colorful name Petunia Leeway.
The narrative goes in many directions and brings in even more characters than those I’ve mentioned. My son described Inherent Vice as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for stoners. That sounds about right.
Inherent Vice, despite its too many plot elements has a charm not unlike that of The Big Lebowski. While it’s doubtful that IV might attain similar cult status, it provides a fun take on a time and a place. If Anderson is willing to share his characters and setting with a developer, I’d love to see an Inherent Vice TV series. Either in the more permissive setting of cable or the more restrictive arena of over-the-air TV, it just might work.