Director Paul Thomas Anderson has a penchant for creating unconventional characters surrounded by an unconventional atmosphere, guided by a surrealistic narrative.
Whether it’s delving into a splintered world, observing the lives of an uncanny few — “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights” — or simply witnessing the degradation of a man’s moral compass — “There Will Be Blood” — Anderson never holds back the bizarre and, occasionally, macabre.
What I’m saying is he makes weird movies. His latest film “Inherent Vice” isn’t all that different from the herd.
The film is centered around a slacker/stoner/hippie/detective named Doc Sportello, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who is also apparently striving to become a “homeless John Lennon” impersonator. Doc is suddenly visited by an old friend who requests a favor: prevent a cheating wife and her lover from putting her real estate mogul husband in a mental asylum.
And that’s the only coherent thing you’ll be able to follow throughout the entire film.
“Inherent Vice,” in all respects, is basically a reincarnation of “The Big Lebowski” in that it features a constantly stoned slacker who seems to have a knack for bad luck, an “in the wrong place at the wrong time” scenario, a slew of outrageous characters with unpredictable behavior and a neo-noir plot on acid.
Nevertheless, “Inherent Vice” is more than the sum of its parts. The message is simply hidden in a mire of confusing story branches, at times incoherent dialogue between cast members and an overall inconsistent feeling in both tone and quality.
However difficult and obtuse the plot, the film is far from bad. It is bolstered by quirky performances from the actors and the humorous, awkward scenarios they fall into.
“Inherent Vice” might not be as accessible and consistently funny as “Lebowski,” but it has enough oddball charm and flair for the strange and unpredictable to keep you entertained, if only to guess what other curveballs it’s willing to throw at you.