Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Eric Roberts, Martin Short, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph

Want to waste two and a half hours of your life in someone else’s muddled haze? It’s like being trapped with a drunk, high person rambling about the weird, long dream he had.

Even with his successes – which are few and far between – director Paul Thomas Anderson only creates stories that are splayed, overlong, and tangential. This worked in Boogie Nights, it’s less effective in Punch Drunk Love and The Master. People may gush over Magnolia (which is also overly complicated and devolves into an illogical conclusion). They may laud his “masterpiece” There Will Be Blood. I still say he’s a director who doesn’t believe in editing, and he’s been given way too much leeway.

Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin are the only two actors given space to develop characters.

Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin are the only two actors given space to develop characters.

He has never fully justified his stretched-out slogs; he desperately needs an hour-and-a-half comedy. Inherent Vice should have been his breezy farce; he failed.

Actually, Anderson adapting and filming a Thomas Pynchon novel should’ve been avoided at all costs. Best seller Pynchon loves strange characters and detours. All this does is play into Anderson’s most abysmal qualities as a filmmaker.

Phoenix portrays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a private investigator and pothead staggering around 1970 L.A. When his former girlfriend shows up unannounced, asking for help, Doc gets reluctantly dragged into the West Coast’s underbelly of drug dealing, crooked land deals, fake clinics, whorehouses, neo-Nazis, psychotic dentists, corrupt police, and shifty politics.

It seems someone’s planning to have a millionaire (Roberts) institutionalized, but he first ends up missing – presumably kidnapped.


The sprawling Thomas Pynchon best seller is the source material.


Really, the plot is way more confusing than this. In fact, it’s downright preposterous on purpose. Doc’s fried mind perhaps makes up half of it, but that could’ve played as a bracing, quick-fire comedy. Anderson stretching all this aimless wandering into two and a half hours is just torturing the audience. On top of that, some moments – particularly a sex scene that feels like rape – make it even worse.

The one thing Anderson has always had working for him is a gift with actors. Daniel Day Lewis won another Oscar for Blood, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix have all been nominated before in Anderson films. Don’t expect any awards here.

However, I will admit Phoenix’s portrayal is nearly intriguing. In a better, livelier film, his character – a drug addict who actually tries to do the right thing – could be delightful. Here Phoenix has to work against the tide, trying to elicit intrigue and empathy as this supposed comedy drones on.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

In the huge cast, Brolin – a crooked, fascist L.A. police detective with a side acting career – is the only other character allowed to develop. Witherspoon, Short, Wilson, Rudolph, and others are stuck in minor roles, flailing to get noticed in this over-chocked flick

Inherent Vice – from script to celluloid – needed some serious editing. Instead, Anderson leeches any life out through slow pacing and lack of focus. Speaking of inherent vices, Anderson’s hubris is given full run here, and this crud is the result.

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