Friday, January 9, 2015
The film is set in the '70s in Los Angeles when Charles Manson is in the headlines and love-in, be-in, and getting-high are trendy. Private investigator Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a chain-smoking pothead with very dirty feet and furry face. His ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) surprisingly shows up at his beach house to tell him that Shasta's rich lover Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) is gone missing. She thinks that Michey's British wife Sloane Wolfmann (Serena Scott Thomas) and Sloane's boyfriend kidnapped Mickey. For reasons unknown, Doc begins his investigation about where Mickey is.
Doc begins his investigation by visiting Chick Planet, a massage parlor whose manager Jade (Hong Chau) cheerfully demonstrates "today's special." But before he can enjoy the show in more details, he is knocked out. When he wakes up on the ground next to a dead body in the court yard of Chick Planet, he is in the custody of a hot-tempered chocolate-covered-banana sucking cop Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin). After Doc's lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio Del Toro) gets Doc out of the police station, Doc continues his detective work running into seemingly endless characters as if you are watching a Robert Altman's film. These characters include a recovered doper Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) who is looking for her supposedly dead husband Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson), a flirtatious District Attorney Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon), and a comical dentist Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short). In case that's not confusing enough, Doc's former employee Sortilège (Joanna Newsom) narrates in the background non-stop by reading the best lines in Thomas Pynchon's novel.
Unlike his previous masterful work such as "There Will Be Blood" (2007) and "The Master" (2012) which tell compelling stories with mesmerizing characters, Paul Thomas Anderson breaks loose in this film and takes us on a wild ride. Almost everyone in the film smokes pot, and almost every scene has some weed lighted up, but that's no excuse for telling a confusing, incoherent, and unconvincing story. The characters are constantly talking and smoking, but they hardly communicating. The scenes are randomly piled up like a stoner runs amok on streets.
If you enjoy pot like Doc, you might be thrilled and entertained by the film, especially by its jokes. Or, you are probably already laughing at everything anyway if you are at a pot-fueled screening in a state like Colorado where weed is legal. The film literally brings back the good-old-time in the '60s and the '70s.
However, if you hate smoking and don't give a damn about the '60s love-in, you might feel the film's two-hour-and-half running time is unbearable, even without the nasty smell from the hippies-wannabe on Haight Street.
Like a rotary dial phone which appears pretty much in every scene, the '60s is history. Let's wash the Doc's feet and move on. Sure, you can light up a joint if that helps, but don't tell a boring story.