When listing influences for “Inherent Vice,” an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's 2009 detective novel, Paul Thomas Anderson drops genre staples that don't come as much of a surprise: “The Long Goodbye,” “Kiss Me Deadly,” “The Big Sleep” – on-screen mystery fiction done right. But his tonal reference points turn any conjured vision of the movie on its head. “‘Police Squad!” and ‘Top Secret!” are what I clued into,” Anderson told the New York Times in a recent profile. “We tried hard to imitate or rip off the Zucker brothers” style of gags so the film can feel like the book feels: just packed with stuff. And fun.”
Is mutton-chopped Joaquin Phoenix the heir to Leslie Nielsen's throne? The idea sounds sublime, even as it dampens the “Inherent Vice” awards potential. The Academy isn't the silliest bunch.
Set along a fictional California beach town in the 1970s, “Inherent Vice” follows Doc Sportello (Phoenix), “a private gum shoe… or nowadays more like gum sandal” as Pynchon puts it, as he investigates a mystery for his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). As he falls down the rabbit hole, Sportello rubs shoulders with corrupt cop Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) and the Golden Fang, an evil conglomerate with their teeth sunk in everything.
Anderson's crime picture approaches its New York Film Festival debut shrouded in secrecy. Even those familiar with Pynchon's source material may wonder exactly how the writer-director of “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “The Master” will translate it to screen. Anderson stresses in the piece that while he's piling on the jokes for “Inherent Vice,” the film still explores a somber reality.
“You”ve got to dig down to find that there”s anything, because there”s so many good jokes,” he explains. The Times describes “Inherent Vice” as “a lampoon lamentation for the Southern California utopia that might have been.” Anderson says that in the editing room, he was “a surrogate to Pynchon's compassion and concern for the American fate.” “Inherent Vice” is about substantive laughs.
2014 is all about the subversive comedy. Our review from Venice calls “Birdman” a “magnificently acidic metatextual comedy.” Fincher says National Lampoon's “That”s Not Funny, That”s Sick” was a major inspiration for “Gone Girl.” And then there's “Inherent Vice,” the thoughtful “Top Secret!” A film as broadly funny as the Zucker brothers oeuvre has been a long time coming for Anderson. Remember, this is guy a who shot a “Saturday Night Live” short with Ben Affleck after wrapping up “Magnolia.”
“Inherent Vice” arrives in limited release Dec 12, 2014 before opening wide on Jan. 9, 2015.