By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Inherent Vice," director Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel that debuted at the New York Film Festival on Saturday is a hazy, drug-fueled trip back to 1970 Los Angeles with its hippies, hustlers and a persistent sleuth.
The film, the first big screen version of a Pynchon novel, is the Centerpiece selection at the 17-day fest that runs through Oct. 12.
When the novel, set at the end of the free-loving 60s after the Charles Manson murders, was published in 2009 it was described as "part-noir, part-psychedelic romp."
The film is peopled with dopers, cops, drug dealers and a government informant in counterculture California involved in a convoluted plot about a missing billionaire property developer and the private eye determined to find him.
Oscar-nominated Anderson, 44, ("The Master," "There Will Be Blood") also wrote the screenplay that is faithful to Pynchon's humorous thriller that pays homage to classic private eyes in Hollywood crime films.
"It is beautifully written with some profound and deeply felt stuff mixed in with just the best jokes and silly songs that you can imagine," Anderson told a press conference.
Joaquin Phoenix, who worked with Anderson on 2012's "The Master," is the long-haired, pot-smoking private detective Larry 'Doc' Sportello. He sports mutton-chop sideburns, sandals, lives in beach house on the Pacific Ocean and runs LSD Investigations.
When a former girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth, played by Katherine Waterston ("Night Moves") returns and asks for his help, Doc becomes embroiled in a search for the missing billionaire Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), and a saxophone-playing former heroin addict turned informant named Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson).
The investigation pits Doc against tough-talking Lieutenant Detective Christian 'Bigfoot" Bjornsen, played by Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men"), who has no time for hippies or the beach and has an impressive flat-top haircut.
The ensemble cast also includes Oscar-winners Reese Witherspoon ("Walk the Line") as Doc's girlfriend Deputy D.A. Penny Kimball and Benicio Del Toro ("Traffic") as the amusing maritime lawyer who comes to Doc's aid.
"Bridesmaids" actress and Anderson's wife, Maya Rudolph, plays a receptionist at Doc's office and comedian Martin Short is a coke-snorting, over-sexed dentist.
Anderson captures the laid-back vibe and the 70s feel with period costumes and music, and uses tight close-up shots and a narrator, actress Joanna Newsom, who plays Doc's all-knowing gal pal Sortilege.
"There was so much good stuff that character could say from the book it seemed helpful to the story and wouldn't step on it, or irritate it, or subtract from what was going on, and hopefully add to it, at its best," he said about the narration.
In an early review The Telegraph newspaper in London described the film as "blissed-out bamboozlement."
"What’s clear from a bleary initial encounter ... is that the film is stupendous," it added.
(Editing by Tom Brown)