The gumshoe—hard-boiled, two-fisted, fedora-wearing, skirt-chasing sleuths—is as all American as the slice of processed cheese on his pie or the Lucky Strike jib dangling from his lip. Those smokes, however, were strictly tobacco, and the old school tough guys like Bogie’s Sam Spade were more likely to drown their troubles in bourbon then they ever were to partake of the hippie lettuce. But, times change, and from somewhere out of the purple haze of the late ‘60s there arose a new archetype for a groovier world: stoner detectives.
These cats may seem like slackers, but really they just prefer to let their minds unwind in order to solve the crime.
Phillip Marlowe – The Long Goodbye (1973)
Director Robert Altman made his long and legendary career by basically taking any genre he touched and shredding it into cinematic confetti; case in point: casting laconic wise ass Elliot Gould as Raymond Chandler’s iconic L.A sleuth Phillip Marlowe
Gould’s Marlowe is snarky cool and in control, even while seemingly forever hung-over.. He gets pushed around by the cops, the crooks (including a young, beefy Arnold Schwarzenegger as a mob goon), his friends, and even the naked hippie chicks that live next door. But Gould’s Marlowe manages to keep it all together by floating over the noise until it’s the time to turn the tables, close the case and wrap up the nasty loose ends.
Larry “Doc” Sportello – Inherent Vice (2014)
Sporting muttonchops as thick as T-Bone steaks, and slipping so deep into character his bloodshot eyes would probably get him pulled over, Joaquin Phoenix plays “Doc”, a shambling, burnt out mess of a P.I. in Paul Thomas Anderson’s smoke-filled take on Thomas Pynchon’s hyper literate, factoid laden and almost impenetrable 2009 novel. Operating out of his shabby 1970 Venice bachelor pad, Sportello gets tangled up in a trio of missing persons cases, though he barely seems capable of finding the number for the pizzeria down the street.
Our hero rides the metaphorical wave and follows the clues to a larger conspiracy involving a multi-million dollar real estate swindle, a cult like drug rehab center, corrupt cops, Neo Nazi biker gangs, gun running Black militants and a cabal of heroin dealing dentist’s called “The Golden Fang.” It doesn’t matter if all the subplots never quite line up, because the mystery is just a backdrop for satire of a hazy California dream tainted by weirdo charlatans and mercenary capitalists alike.
Rustin Cohle – True Detective
Having escaped the purgatory of co-starring in endless Kate Hudson rom coms, Matthew McCounaghey willed himself back into critical relevance with a comeback starting as a cocky, male flesh peddling Stripper daddy in Magic Mike, then culminating in Oscar winning turn as a macho redneck turned maverick A.I.D.S activist in Dallas Buyer’s Club. What really secured his rejuvenation though was his genius turn as the deeply haunted, existential investigator Rust Cohle, alongside his real life ganja loving, naked-bongo-playing partner in high, Woody Harrelson on HBO’s groundbreaking , instant classic, gritty TV novella True Detective.
As a former narc and future addict, Cohle didn’t discriminate in his drug intake, but his mind-altering view of reality, and observations like “Time is a flat circle” certainly don’t come without at least a few trips down the THC rabbit hole.
Jeffrey “ The Dude” Lebowski – The Big Lebowski
The Cohen brothers notorious flop turned cult icon is maybe the single most quotable script in movie history; chock full of dozens of killer lines that have wormed their way so deep into our brains that we can hardly remember our sad little lives before it. A madcap romp through the seedy underbelly of Hollywood glitz, Lebowski has become a staple of college dorm movie nights, and the new template for intelligent stoner comedy (and anti-plot detective narrative), though few imitators have really tie a room together.
Jeff Bridges brilliant performance as accidental detective Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, was so immersive that the Oscar-winning actors now seems content to traipse through life like the goofball, Zen master we all want him to be. And who doesn’t want to get so stoned that they turn into a human bowling ball?
Norville “Shaggy” Rogers –Scooby Doo
You could say that technically Scooby is more of a paranormal researcher than a detective, but if it wasn’t for him and his pesky friend’s meddling around haunted houses, abandoned factories and TV studios, then dozens of blackmailers, saboteurs and disgruntled librarians would have gotten away with scarring the shit out of generations of townies. You could also say that he was just an innocent Saturday Morning cartoon character, but my man road around the country in a conversion van, had the munchies like it was his job, constantly thought he was seeing phantoms and ghost pirates, partied with Mama Cass and had lengthy, philosophical conversations with his Great Dane. You do the math homey.