Movie reviews: Inherent Vice, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Big Hero

Inherent Vice ***

Movie reviews: Inherent Vice, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Big Hero

Set in LA in 1970, and adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s cult novel, Inherent Vice (16s) revolves around private eye Doc Sportello’s (Joaquin Phoenix) investigation into the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston).

Aided and abetted by the hippy-hating LAPD detective Christian Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), Doc uncovers a plot to kidnap billionaire real-estate tycoon Michael Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), although that narrative strand is as much a McGuffin as was the missing carpet in The Big Lebowski, a movie to which Inherent Vice, and Doc Sportello’s hapless investigator in particular, owe a considerable debt.

That said, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest offering has even more in common with Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, as our likeable but befuddled gumshoe stumbles through a labyrinthine conspiracy, his 1960’s idealism constantly thwarted by the new cynicism of the early 1970s.

Phoenix, sporting outrageous lamb-chop sideburns and looking every inch the bedraggled personification of an acid-fried peacenik, shuffles through the movie in a state of constant wide-eyed wonder, a child-man who provides the story with a shambolic and unfocused but nevertheless endearing moral heart.

Brolin, by contrast, is all sharp edges and barked orders, even if the strait-laced Bjornsen is every bit as bewildered by the world as Doc. Anderson’s direction encourages a loose, free-wheeling style that pays due homage to Pynchon’s original parody of the private eye genre, but ultimately that translates onscreen as a meandering, episodic and unnecessarily convoluted story.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (16s) is another spoof, this time of the spy genre, and in particular the James Bond movies. Adapted by Jane Goldman from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel ‘The Secret Service’, it stars Colin Firth as Harry Hart, aka Galahad, a member of a shadowy intelligence organisation that owes fidelity to no one nation or state.

Harry’s latest mission is to investigate the motives of Valentine (Samuel L Jackson), a billionaire with a very radical plan to counteract global warming; in the process, Harry mentors young tearaway Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton), a working-class lad who must learn to behave in a gentlemanly way if he is to take his place as one of the Kingsmen.

Matthew Vaughn’s movie is a blend of My Fair Lady and virtually any Bond flick you care to mention, albeit one that pokes tongue-in-cheek fun at the violent excesses of the Bond franchise.

Firth and Egerton work very well together, the deadpan, immaculately mannered Firth playing a straight bat for all he’s worth, while Egerton’s Cockney upstart thrashes through proceedings pointing out the Kingsmen’s foibles and flaws as he goes.

The set-pieces, which are invariably set to entirely inappropriate soundtracks, are especially well choreographed, and the hilarious scene in which one-man army Firth wreaks havoc in a packed church is worth the price of admission alone.

Fans of the original material will likely be very pleased with what’s on offer here, but those less invested in the joke might find that the tone of overwrought pastiche eventually begins to grate.

Set in the city of ‘San Fransokyo’, Big Hero 6 (PG) has for its twin heroes a teenage inventing prodigy Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) and a rather odd-looking artificial intelligence, the giant marshmallow health care robot Baymax (Scott Adsit).

Devastated when his beloved older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) dies in a tragic accident, Hiro is comforted by Baymax, who is programmed to cure human ailments.

But when Hiro discovers that Hadashi’s death was caused by a megalomaniac villain, he swears his revenge and re-programmes Baymax to be a weapon of war, in the process establishing a group of teenage superheroes.

Made by the animation team responsible for Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, and directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, with John Lasseter (Toy Story) as executive producer, this arrives with plenty of pedigree.

Unfortunately, the creators appear to believe that Baymax is a much more interesting character than he really is; while the robot is a likeable creation, particularly when his role becomes that of a guardian angel to the vulnerable Hiro, far too much screen-time is given over to the mechanics of establishing an origins story for Hiro and his superhero chums, and not enough invested in the most interesting aspect of the story, which is the developing emotional relationship between the boy and the machine.

The futuristic blend of American and Japanese cultures in ‘San Fransokyo’ is a fascinating departure but Big Hero 6 could have benefited hugely from a little more heart.

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