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Overlong, scrambled ‘Inherent Vice’ a plain bore

Tom Long
The Detroit News

‘Inherent Vice’ is an unrepentant mess.

Of course if you’re a flag-waving fan of writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Boogie Nights”) you will be required to recognize it as a work of genius, an exploration of capitalist decay in the ’60s-’70s counterculture uproar or some such nonsense.

In truth, it’s overlong and oversilly, a meandering adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s likely unadaptable novel that flies from one kooky character or situation to the next with no clear purpose or dramatic impact. Every once in a while, there’s a good moment, but in a film that runs two hours and 28 minutes, you need more than a few good moments.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a stoner private eye working out of a southern California beach town in 1970. Enter an ex-girlfriend named Shasta (a beguiling Katherine Waterston), who, of course, needs a favor: Her current boyfriend is being set up for something or other by his wife and her lover. Can Doc help?

OK, standard gumshoe stuff. But then the complications and absurdities start piling on. There’s a cop named Bigfoot (Josh Brolin) who loves making Doc miserable. There’s a a fuzzy cult called the Golden Fang that may or may not be importing drugs. There’s a coke-snorting randy dentist (Martin Short) who joins Doc on a wild ride. And Doc’s current flame (Reese Witherspoon), an uptight assistant D.A.

And let’s not forget the pretty widow (Jena Malone) who sets Doc searching for her missing (deceased?) rock saxophonist husband (Owen Wilson). Or Doc’s friend and attorney (Benicio del Toro).

There’s more, way too much more. Some storylines conclude, some collide, others dissipate. But the film’s main crime is this: It’s boring.

‘Inherent Vice’

GRADE: D

Rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence

Running time: 148 minutes

“Inherent Vice” (R ) Joaquin Phoenix stars as a drug-addled private eye in 1970 in this overlong, oversilly and ultimately boring adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel from Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master”). (148 minutes) GRADE: D