Inherent Vice

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(2014) ★★½

Sky Movies Premiere: PREMIERE Friday 13 November, 11.30am and 10pm

Joaquin Phoenix as pothead private eye Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello, cheerfully greeted by one and sundry with ‘What’s up Doc?’ while lost in a haze of Thomas Pynchon’s purple prose as he investigates a missing persons/murder case in Los Angeles. It’s 1970. The age of Aquarius drowned out by Helter Skelter as 60s psychedelia morphs into creeping paranoia.

A condition acutely felt by the bumbling Phoenix as he bumps into a cavalcade of karma comedians, most of them with names as daft as Dirk Diggler’s: bodyguard Puck Beaverton, FBI agents Flatweed and Borderline, blacklisted movie star Burke Stodges, Buddy Tubeside and Leonard Loosemeat (aka El Drano), Petunia Leeway and Japonica Fenway, clients of randy dentist Dr Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short).

Doc’s former flame Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) and her married paramour, real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) are the people missing. Which is why Doc’s treated with suspicion – and contempt – by racist LAPD detective Christian ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), who’d qualify as a bad cop if it weren’t for his crooked partner, really bad cop Adrian Prussia (Peter McRobbie).

Inherent Vice

No wonder Doc ends up at the Chroskylodon Institute, a health spa booby hatch for wealthy boobs, where Wolfmann claims: “They’re helping me wake up from my bad hippie dream.” Hmm. I’ll have what he’s having. From Boogie Nights to The Master (but most tellingly in There Will Be Blood), director Paul Thomas Anderson has proved himself a master at total immersion in the past.

Anderson said he was wary of turning Pynchon’s book into a film because “no one’s ever gonna do better than The Big Lebowski, right?” Ultimately, he was seduced by Pynchon’s nostalgic take on Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. But he might have benefitted from taking a closer look at two other ‘big’ pictures. 

Elmore Leonard’s The Big Bounce (the 1969 original, not the terrible 2004 Owen Wilson remake) and Jeremy Paul Kagan’s The Big Fix (1978), in which private eye Richard Dreyfuss lamented the loss of radical 60s idealism. The authentic poignancy of both these films is missing in the meandering loopiness of Inherent Vice, and you’d need to be seriously blitzed to find any of it as funny as The Big Lebowski.

Inherent Vice

The random goofiness of Inherent Vice’s broadly played characters aligns them more to the realm of comic books than to the hard-boiled worldweariness of Hammett and Chandler and their natural heir, James Ellroy. Woodstock cheerleaders Country Joe and the Fish are namechecked upfront in an entertainment as arcane as its title (marine insurance legalese for damaged goods), complete with whimsical voiceover from musician Joanna Newsom as Doc’s Girl Friday, Sortilège.

Doc’s muttonchop sideburns are plain for all to see, but – Sortilège archly informs us – his former girlfriend was wearing a heavy combination of face ingredients he couldn’t read at all. “You can only cruise the boulevards of regret so far,” is her summation of a Cheechless Chong’n’bong saga that has an eye for irrelevant detail worthy of Wes Anderson (no relation).

The use of Can’s Soup is an inspirational ingredient. But – Hey you! – 2½ hours? There’s no compelling reason for this shaggy-dog story to be quite so baggy. Wake up and small the patchouli oil – that’slonger than The Long Goodbye.

Certificate: 15

Duration: 149min

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Other Showings Date & Time
Sky Movies Premiere Saturday, 14 November at 11:30AM
Sky Movies Premiere Saturday, 14 November at 10:00PM
Sky Movies Premiere Sunday, 15 November at 9:45AM
Sky Movies Premiere Sunday, 15 November at 10:00PM
Sky Movies Premiere Monday, 16 November at 11:30AM
Sky Movies Premiere Monday, 16 November at 10:00PM
Sky Movies Premiere Tuesday, 17 November at 11:30AM
Sky Movies Premiere Tuesday, 17 November at 10:00PM
Sky Movies Premiere Wednesday, 18 November at 11:30AM
Sky Movies Premiere Wednesday, 18 November at 10:00PM
Sky Movies Premiere Thursday, 19 November at 11:30AM
Sky Movies Premiere Thursday, 19 November at 10:00PM