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Inherent Vice


Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Sasha Pieterse, Jena Malone, Martin Short, Hong Chau. Michael Kenneth Williams, Joanna Newsom, Maya Rudolph, Eric Roberts, Martin Donovan, Peter McRobbie

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

A nostalgic throwback to the stoner detective story pioneered by Robert Altman, in his revisionist version of Philip Marlowe, The Long Goodbye, more than 40 years ago. Anderson's film is appropriately set in 1970 California where, in a marijuana fug you can almost see, 'Doc' Sportello (Phoenix), who looks more like beach bum than a gumshoe - though 'gumsandal' would be more appropriate - is visited, as are all private eyes at the start of these stories, by a femme fatale, in this case his ex gf Shasta Fay (Waterston, daughter of Sam), who involves him in the mystery of musician Coy Harlingen (Wilson), who's been declared dead but may not be, and her land developer bf (Roberts), who has also disappeared.

At the heart of the story - in which all the characters have outlandish names more appropriate to a Marx Bros comedy - is the matter of an Indo-Chinese drugs cartel, a boat called The Golden Fang and a wild child named Japonica Fenway (Pieterse), who may connect up the dots for our permanently-stoned sleuth - his narcotics of choice are marijuana and cocaine - and his police HQ vis-a-vis Bigfoot (Brolin), a bully at work but, as we eventually discover, bullied at home.

Martin Short - long time, no see - catches the eye as a purple-suited dentist called Dr Blatnoyd. Alas, he doesn't last long. 'They found him,' growls Brolin, 'next to a trampoline in LA.'

It's a film rich in character and eccentricity that just about enables you to keep track of its plot but captures the period to perfection. And there's always the character names to relish. My favourite was Riggs Warbling, although film star Burke Stodger runs him a close second.

David Quinlan

USA 2014. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour by FotoKem.
148 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 3, Swearing 2.

Review date: 25 Jan 2015