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Saw Inherent Vice last weekend; this is P.T. Anderson's two-and-a-half-hour long adaptation of the eponymous novel by Thomas Pynchon, which is set in So-Cal in 1970, and follows the half-hearted, half-awake ex-cop turned hippie PI Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) as he somnambulantly pursues several different cases that he apparently takes on gratis. This being a Pynchon tale, wouldn'tcha know that all the disparate cases somehow tie together, sort of. The biggest mystery for me, however, was how Doc made his weed money, never mind his rent and operating expenses.

Inherent Vice played like a Bizarro World version of The Big Lebowski, as written by Cormac McCarthy: odd, off-kilter, shaggy, and with an arbitrarily placed ending that doesn't exactly tie up all the loose ends. Then again, those traits are also very much a hallmark of P.T. Anderson's oeuvre (There Will Be Blood, The Master, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love).

Where The Big Lebowski was the Coen Brothers recasting the first Philip Marlowe novel, The Big Sleep, as a stoner comedy, Inherent Vice is a darkly satirical look, through the fog of constant and casual illicit drug use, at the strange bedfellows that the strange politics in America of the late 1960s / early 1970s created. While there was some truly heavy and scary shit going down in the U.S. in that time period, and there were any number of bad-acting mamma-jammers on all sides of the political spectrum (although those on the right tended to swing the heavier weight), virtually none of that is conveyed in the movie Inherent Vice (or, I suspect, in Pynchon's novel); Doc barely registers any of these bad vibes, and is so dissolute and dissipated that he can barely get off the couch to try to get back with his lost love, even when she marches into his living room at the beginning of the movie, kicking off the overly convoluted proceedings.

Inherent Vice was compelling, sure, if you're in the mood for a high-falutin stoner comic mystery, or kinda like (or want to like) either McCarthy or Pynchon -- or P.T. Anderson, come to think of it. All others might want to take a pass.

A high point (no pun intended...) for me was Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) relating to Doc her "meet cute" (the air-quotes here are meant to convey the opposite of what the phrase "meet cute" normally does...) story of how she met her missing husband Coy (Owen Wilson), a saxophone player and agent provocateur who appears to be even more detached from reality than Doc is. (It's called type casting, people.) Unfortunately, this appalling tale happens in the first half of the movie, and while the rest isn't exactly all downhill from there, nothing else ever quite matches it, never mind tops it, even when a good-time dentist named Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short) shows up.

Oh, and the soundtrack has not one, but two songs by Can, a weird band who were kind of a 1970s version of Sigur Rós, except they were frequently more upbeat, or at least up-tempo; can't say I can recall offhand another movie that has done the same.

Other standouts in the strong cast are Katherine Waterston as Doc's ex-inamorata, Shasta Fay Hepworth, and Joanna Newsom as Doc's trippy, psychic (and, arguably, entirely hallucinated by Doc) confidante, Sortilège. Josh Brolin's straight-edge LAPD detective, Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, doesn't appear to have much to offer at first, but keep an eye on his physical shtick, particularly when he's in the car with Doc. O.M.G.

Inherent Vice gave me a vague yearning to go back and finish Against the Day (I stalled out on page 504 of the hardcover edition), or maybe read Inherent Vice or, better, V or Gravity's Rainbow.

Better still, I may reread The Crying of Lot 49, if only to remind myself why I thought that Pynchon was hot stuff in the first place.



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