Inherent Vice

 

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.

 

 

Savages

Good and evil—sometimes the lines get blurred.

Two good-looking guys who are big buds also grow big buds. In fact, their pot is so potent that a Mexican drug gang wants to distribute their product. The two men, played by Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson, are such good friends that they share a gorgeous blonde girlfriend, played by Blake Lively.

These two drug dealers are the apparent good guys. Sure, they are committing felonies on a daily basis, but they are also sending money to Africa and Asia to help poor kids and they provide their killer weed to a crooked DEA agent (played by John Travolta) whose wife who is in pain, dying from cancer.

Then you have the Mexicans who are the apparent bad guys. The Mexicans include Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek. We are introduced to them via a gruesome decapitation video. They torture people, they shoot people, they kidnap people. Worst of all, they refuse to negotiate. Their offer to our “good guys” is a “take it or leave it.” When the good guys leave it, the bad guys kidnap the blonde.

That’s when things get really ugly. That’s when good goes bad. That’s when bad, well, doesn’t exactly go good, but shows some human emotion.

Director Oliver Stone’s depictions of violence are direct: sadistic, brutal, and bloody. And they are more realistic that the stylized scenes of violence in a Tarentino film.

In “Savages,” the story we see and the changes the characters undergo are really more important than the film’s ultimate conclusion. If you like a good action film and can handle some violence and gore, take a deep hit of “Savages,” get Oliver Stoned and enjoy the buzz.