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Movie Review: “Inherent Vice”

Jan 092015
 By , January 9, 2015
Movie Review: "Inherent Vice"

Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice – a film review by Gary Chew

Looking back in time 35 years, it might have been a valid prediction that Southern California would eventually rot off the extreme southwestern edge of the United States of America never to be seen again after slithering into the depths of the Pacific Ocean. That’s the feeling Paul Thomas Anderson gave me as I sat watching his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s really nutty detective yarn set in 1970 titled Inherent Vice. (Anderson was born in 1970.)

Inherent ViceThe late Sixties and early Seventies fell in the prime of my life, so I speak with a modicum of authority commenting on the film Inherent Vice, although I was not nearly as “highly” evolved into the cultural immaturity of Pynchon’s characters that parade so splendidly through this 2014 Anderson movie.

Good thing these characters do parade so: the plot, with it’s zany shifts among a succession of even zanier souls can become difficult to follow — sort of like a story written by a fellow who smoke lots of weed — even at his keyboard.

Joaquin Phoenix rejoins Anderson to do the lead, Larry “Doc” Sportello. That handle could be another way to define Inherent Vice. Yes, Cheech and Chong have nothing on Doc. They’re three peas in a cannabis-green pod.

There’s another way to describe Vice, sort of. If you push together Chinatown, L A Confidential, The Big Lebowski and the more recent Hunter S. Thompson novel-to-movie The Rum Diary with Johnny Depp doing Thompson, you still wouldn’t be completely on target for what Inherent Vice is. But, you’d be close.

Inherent ViceI can’t imagine any cast in a motion picture having more fun than Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterson, Owen Wilson, Benico Del Toro, Reese Whitherspoon, Eric Roberts, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolf and Martin Donovan doing a wacky script that takes you all the way from a money-laundering girlie massage parlor to a very upscale, upper coastal drug re-hab clinic with a large sign just above its entrance declaring that “Straight is Hip.”

Prior to purchasing your ticket to see this movie, please know that there’s a plentitude of “Hollywood Inside-ness” that swings by. There’s some violence and one scene, in particular, that convinces as an effective choreography of staged, non-explicit, human sexual intercourse (of course) between Mr. Phoenix and Ms. Waterston.

If it were possible, only three other male personalities would advance the indelicate offbeat flavor of Inherent Vice: Rip Torn and Gene Wilder with George Carlin as narrator. However, the young woman who does do the voice-over for the picture is quite good as well.

Anderson’s film seems slightly long. There are talky scenes that drag, but I’ve heard and read that such novels as this Pynchon work aren’t exactly compatible for the word processors employed by most of the Hollywood establishment, if you want to consider Paul Thomas Anderson as part of the group. But that’s no reason not to see this really koo-koo movie, especially during the scenes it makes fun of the LAPD. Ten-4?

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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