Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Well, that did it. Oliver Stone is officially on probation.
By doing his worst Tony Scott impersonation on Savages, the once-mighty director of Platoon and JFK presents himself as a filmmaker out of touch not only with his wannabe shock-and-awe subject matter, but with filmmaking in general. Stone’s latest film is a confounding bore that misses the mark of…whatever point it’s trying to make. Rich in eye-rolling moments, Savages is nonetheless visually arresting with just barely enough action to hold one’s interest, but never more than a worthless waste of time.
Based on Don Winslow’s novel, Savages centers on Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), polar opposite best friends who grow the best marijuana in California, if not the entire country. Their primo product affords them a luxurious existence in Laguna Beach, where they live a jealousy-free, ménage à trois lifestyle with O (Blake Lively). When a Mexican cartel offers to partner with them, the boys decline and, sensing danger, plan their escape from the drug scene. The move offends kingpin Elena (Salma Hayek), whose chief henchman Lado (Benicio Del Toro) kidnaps O and urges the boys to reconsider. Hell bent on rescuing O, Chon and Ben enlist the help of a sleazy DEA agent (John Travolta) and take on the cartel themselves.
Considering the players and a violent, stylized tale along the lines of Stone’s Natural Born Killers, the potential for a hit is most definitely present. Hampering it from the start, however, is Lively’s horrible narration. “Just ’cause I’m telling you this story doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end,” she begins. “It’s that kind of a story.” These faux-witty lines may work in more capable hands, but Lively’s amateur phone-sex breathiness do them no favors.
Serving as our guide throughout, O introduces each major player in an omniscient manner, which feels ridiculous as she’s the least public and connected of all. Her non-narration scenes are similarly painful, and combined with the ongoing punishment of her commentary, it’s a wonder why Chon and Ben would go to such lengths to save her.
The rest of the film is no better. Consistently humorless, the script is peppered with cringe-worthy soap opera one-liners meant to be darkly comedic. What’s worse is that no one seems to be having fun: not Kitsch, Johnson, and Lively in their sex scenes; not Del Toro, rocking a mullet but never quite embracing Lado’s sadism; and not Travolta, wearing what appears to be a Halloween mask of his former self and failing spectacularly to recapture his mid-‘90s zest. The supposed dire predicament facing the characters may be to blame, but who wants to watch a bunch of depressed people in a gunfight?
As for the film’s purported graphic nature, it would be wonderful to say that the violence was gratuitous and repulsive, and that it served some greater satirical purpose. Such claims, however, would falsely imply that Savages inspires some sort of emotional response…or that it has any handle on what it’s doing. Instead, the gore and menace are tame and pointless. The severed heads and burning bodies add nothing to the film, for they threaten characters in whom there is little rooting interest. The same goes for the film’s ridiculous ending, a no-man’s land choice which Stone should know better than to pursue.
Though I somehow missed Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, I’ve enjoyed the recent subdued direction Stone brought to films like World Trade Center and the criminally underrated W. No such control is evident in Savages. It’s a dud, plain and simple, and worthy of your cold shoulder.
Rated R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout
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