Savages – 2012

Director – Oliver Stone
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Benicio del Toro
Screenplay Don Winslow, Shane Salermo and Stone based on the Novel Savages by Winslow

Somewhere along about 1994, Oliver Stone was lost to me.  He’d been weird before that, with The Doors, and history-challenged JFK.  Then came Natural Born Killers.  Almost completely unwatchable, for its stupidity as much as its horror beyond need.  Since then, he’s been apt to delve into lunacy (Alexander, U Turn) or make the straightest arrow stuff you could imagine (Any Given Sunday, World Trade Center, W., Wall Street 2).  In Savages, we finally find that combination that represents the nutball as well as Joe Six-pack, and it’s as average as anything you’d see these days.

Even as I watched the Rated version of the film, I was taken aback at the grotesque scenes involving beheading at the start of Savages.  You don’t see it happen, but you sure as hell see the result.  The effect, rather than shock or outrage, is just a reminder that this IS a movie directed by Oliver Stone and starring del Toro.  Gross stuff is to be expected, and yawned through.

The film is basically a cowboy movie  told modern-day, with drugs.  The good cowboys (Johnson and Kitsch), selling the most pure stuff (30% – there must be some mistake!), are given an offer they can’t and should not refuse.  They refuse.  Before you can say “Pack up the Plantation,” their shared pot head girlfriend (Lively, suffering from some serious synapse gaps) is captured through their stellar security staff of one and then brought into the lair of the bad guys (Hayek and del Toro).

First and foremost, Kitsch and Johnson are a stretch as the leaders of this vast, but noble empire.  Johnson in particular, who was remarkably appealing as Kick-Ass, has absolutely no presence here, especially in scenes counter to del Toro.  It is apparent that they wanted to draw that contrast, but this guy is announced as some sort of magnificent world healer, putting all of his vast resources to effective use.  When one sees him with his two month’s growth that looks like it’s two days for an adult, I just think of him as someone who needs finish his term paper.  Kitsch is maybe not quite as far off base, but still, there are only hints and repeated sayings telling us how tough he is.  It never really pans out.

Hayek has started on a new phase of her career.  Her mix of delirium and calculated menace is more than equal to del Toro’s wheezy scumbag approach.  Travolta seems just a tad over the top as the Federal Agent playing both sides against the taxpayer.  Over the top is just perfect for Stone, though, even if it does get weary for the viewer.

Overall the story is solid, if quite average.  None of the moves are unexpected, and none of them are particularly thrilling.  What the filmmakers may have thought clever – a working ménage à trois relationship, is really just for fetishists.  The likelihood of its success is just about that of the two guys ruling the drug world.  Blake Lively provides a voice over that reminds one why they don’t like voice overs.

Some may like this film, and I would not fault them.  It’s not a bad film.  As for me, it’s unlikely it will cross my mind again.

(*** out of *****)

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