In 1970 when the Manson Family dominated the news and there was a war pitting cops against hippies, pothead private investigator Larry 'Doc' Sportello (Joaquin Pheonix) is approached by his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) to foil the plan to commit her rich, married, real-estate mogul boyfriend Mickey (Eric Roberts) to a mental institution by his wife and her lover. Following the cast all the way down the rabbit-hole Doc encounters undercover operatives, prostitutes, dodgy LAPD, hippies, surfers and the mysterious 'Golden Fang', until there are so many people involved and so many branches that you won’t know which way is up.
Yes, the plot is overcomplicated, contrived and for the most part incoherent - but does it have style? Flare? And in the end is it all worth it? In this reviewer's opinion, no. Of course the style and the time make the film fun and interesting to look at, but when you find yourself checking your watch to see how much more of this 148 minute Rubik’s cube you have to sit through and mentally writing a shopping list to fill the “I don’t know what’s going on so I’m not even going to try” mind abyss, it’s never a good sign.
It’s not much of a comedy (or even at all depending of your sense of humour) despite what its advertising would have you believe. No, this crime noir drama adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel is never what you expect it to be.
The cast is solid and full of faces you know and love like Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Martin Short, Josh Brolin and Maya Rudolph - and all in 70s glory. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (‘Boogie Nights’), this is definitely under his influence, if you like that sort of thing - meaning, yes, there are more than a few “What!?” moments including at the very end. So if you work your way through the maze-like plot and arrive at your destination, you may like it, you may not, but you can’t say it wasn’t an interesting ride.