SHERLOCK Holmes found cocaine to be "transcendentally stimulating," and his results as a detective speak for themselves.
How about pot, then, as an enhancement to deductive reasoning?
Don't get your hopes up, says "Inherent Vice," a hilarious piece of nonsense (adapted from Thomas Pynchon) from Paul Thomas Anderson, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as Doc, an L.A. gumshoe who looms here as the missing stoner link between Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Jeff Lebowski.
What are we looking for this time - the thin man, a jade necklace, the rug that pulls the room together?
Fans of detective fiction - "Inherent Vice" being one - know it's kind of beside the point. The initial assignment is merely an excuse to draw our knight errant into the fray, and into a pretzel-shaped plot that loops back over itself as we meet a vividly kooky array of characters.
So the plot doesn't really matter, but here it is anyway: Doc gets a visit from his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston, Sam's daughter). She now has a rich, real-estate mogul boyfriend (Eric Roberts), he's gone missing and she wants him found.
Doc's on the case for a few days and then Shasta goes missing, too, and the trail takes him through neo-Nazis, Black Panthers and a mysterious organization that is either a boat, an Asian drug/prostitution gang or an investment syndicate run by a goofy dentist (Martin Short).
In due time, Doc ends up having to find other missing people and probe half a dozen other mysteries. One of the missing is a counterculture infiltrator (Owen Wilson, his best role in years) who's sort of the Where's Waldo of the piece - popping up at mod Laurel Canyon parties, ashrams, materializing out of fog banks.
For all of its convolutions, though, "Inherent Vice" operates amusingly within the conventions of classic detective fiction.
Doc, for instance, is unreliable in every way except the ways that count - he'll cut corners, but observes a definable and reliable code of honor. Women love him (Reese Witherspoon has a funny bit as a D.A.), the police (Josh Brolin) do not.
The movie plays everything for laughs, but there's a serious layer somewhere way down deep. You see being planted the seeds of a surveillance state - Nixonian paranoia before it left Orange County and moved up the coast to Silicon Valley.
Everything that happens in America, says one character, reflects the nation's ongoing internal battle with fear and greed. You know Doc is the hero, because he suffers from neither. He walks into absurdly dangerous situations, protected by what's termed his "stoner ESP" - the force that protects potheads in movies, if not in life.
Doc also ends up with a giant stash of heroin, which he does not attempt to profit from, because he is pure of heart.
The missing real-estate mogul?
In L.A. noir, the details of any mystery dissolve like the fog.
Doc is left squinting at a polluted netherworld of awful people. In the end, like Marlowe, all he wants is a happy (within reason) outcome for the few decent people he meets along the way.
The Maltese falcon - the stuff dreams are made of? - that ends in the waste bin.