Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK) has not had a great run of late with his feature films. Alexander was a bloated disaster in every sense of the word, and Wall Street 2 was a surely regrettable attempt to blend his successes of the past with the United States’ predicament at the time. Frustratingly, he continues his dire streak. Our narrator here is Ophelia, known as ‘O’ (Blake Lively), who in the opening monologue reveals that she might or might not be narrating this story from the grave. She introduces us to her communal boyfriends and inseparable partners, Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a former Navy SEAL and mercenary, and Ben (Aaron Johnson), a decent and charitable Buddhist and talented botanist of illicit drugs. The pair of entrepreneurs run a lucrative marijuana business out of their Laguna Beach-front home, supplying the California-region with some of the best product ever distributed.
But when a Mexican drug cartel - led by no-nonsense business-inheritor, Elena (Salma Hayek), and her mustachioed enforcer, Lado (Benicio Del Toro) - proposes a partnership the boys choose not to comply, deciding to split to Indonesia. When O is kidnapped and help hostage in Elena’s estate, they realize they have to muscle-up, hatch a plan to rescue her and try and keep their prospering independence.
Lively, Kitsch and Johnson are good-looking youngsters, and Johnson especially has a bright acting future ahead of him. Chon is a somewhat one-note character, but as far as Kitsch continuing to channel the intense macho role and he is better suited here than John Carter and Battleship. Ben’s pleasant demeanour disappears and he evolves into a reckless gun-wielder like his partner and is willing to do whatever it takes to rescue the woman he loves. Ben and Chon’s bromance feels genuine and Kitsch and Johnson share good chemistry together.
Also impressive was an against-type Salma Hayek. Her Cartel boss character had heart. There was a brief moment when she was completely stripped down – and literally removed her Cleopatra-like wig – and left vulnerable. A lumbering Del Toro (who infuses his stereotype with some grunt) and an endlessly flabbergasted John Travolta (who plays Dennis, a crooked DEA cop working both sides) hammed it up. Arguably the most entertaining sequence of the film was watching their showdown in the kitchen of Dennis’ family home.
Savages gets off to a slow start - and really, not a lot happens in the first hour or so – but as the boys get increasingly desperate about rescuing O, the less we care about anything. It is an exercise in excess. Not to mention how loud and violent it is on occasions, picking just about any sequence and looking at the way it is shot and edited together reveals no vision or sense of purpose. There are lackluster and pointless odd-angled shots, haphazard editing, overwhelming colour-grading effects and speed motion. Throw in some awfully annoying voice-over from Lively, and a pretty lame double ending and there’s not a lot to recommend here. The end is hardly a make or break, because if you dislike this film you are long-gone by this point, but I think there will be a collective groan in some sessions.
Though it has a few memorable moments in the middle, my patience with this overlong, wearying and reprehensible mess soon wore thin. It is a tapestry of machismo and debauchery with obnoxious and indulgent stylistic flourishes and barely a sympathetic soul in sight. With limited drama, Stone offers only glimpses of effective playfulness – it is almost entirely void of a sense of humour save for a few moments featuring Del Toro and Travolta - and experimentation. Stone has not made a film remotely memorable since Any Given Sunday (1999).
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone
Starring: Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, Salma Hayek
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.