September 27, 2012 1 Comment
War veteran Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and botanist Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are BFF marijuana growers based in Laguna Beach, California, where they split their lifestyle three ways with groupie O (Blake Lively). When they are approached by a Mexican cartel run by Elena (Salma Hayek), the trio decline, deciding to call it a day, and book flights to Indonesia in an attempt to flee the cartel. Their plans foiled by enforcer Lado (Benicio del Toro) and O kidnapped whilst out shopping, Chon and Ben turn to corrupt DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta) for help while reluctantly re-entering negotiations with Elena. Over Skype, mostly.
Adapted from Don Winslow’s novel of the same name, the latest film from once-prolific director Oliver Stone is a long way from the celebrated heights of JFK, Platoon or, heck, even World Trade Centre. Nope, we’re firmly in Alexander territory here — and as if that wasn’t bad enough, Savages might even be worse.
Narrated by Lively in what feels like one continuous, incessant voice-over, Stone’s film introduces us to three of the most ridiculous, shallow and unsympathetic characters that you are ever likely to meet. As O jumps in and out of bed/chair/hot-tub with each of her doting admirers, her disembodied tones introduce a truly staggering array of supporting characters who, in five cases out of ten, we will never actually hear from again. In fact, when Lively is finally kidnapped (in a mall, after a shopping montage), it takes a sizeable suspension of disbelief just to imagine that anyone would go to any effort at all to actually get her back.
It’s almost impossible to get involved in the convoluted conflict, as Stone fails to establish any recognisable stakes. Though he opens the film with a decapitation, and drops intermittent displays of violence into the background, such threats are too often resolved with meaningless amounts of money, gratuitous computer hacking or a raid on some faceless henchmen. During the few moments of plot that don’t come complete with a vapid commentary, the thing still struggles to gain traction, only really coming to life for one brief shoot-out as dreadlocked Buddhist Ben finally turns “baddist”. Had it been explored, the threesome’s unconventional relationship could have been genuinely interesting. Instead, we get no fewer than two “resolutions” that ensure we never want to hear from the characters again.
The film’s few redeeming qualities lie squarely in its eclectic cast. While Blake is a completely unlively write-off as the object of everybody’s desires, the rest of the cast are at the very least watchable. Johnson is better cast than he was in Anna Karenina, his botanist-come-businessman proving far more believable than his military adulterer, but that’s all that can really be said for him. Kitsch, meanwhile, is perfectly passable as the bad cop marine, a slight blandness doing little to justify the knock his career has taken over the last four or five months. It is the film’s villains that save Savages from being a complete catastrophy, with Hayek in particular making the most of her plucky antagonist; Elena is the only character with any depth, whatsoever.
Ultimately, however, Savages is simply a missed opportunity. Once upon a time, a Stone-directed Savages could have made for quite the daring and controversial watch. Instead, we are treated to a toothless barrage of cliché’s, a screenplay that boasts the immortal line “I have orgasms; he has wargasms”, and a finale that leave you baying for blood of your own. Not so much a bad trip as a lethal underdose.