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Overall Rating
3.29

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look62.5%
Average: 4.17%
Pretty Bad: 33.33%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 6 user ratings


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Savages
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by Brett Gallman

"Stone goes to pot."
2 stars

It takes nearly two hours for the Oliver Stone of old--the hallucinatory, anarchist, rabbit-hole burrower of “Natural Born Killers” and its ilk--to truly put his stamp on “Savages,” by which point it’s far too late for him to rescue the film from its overwrought, tedious proceedings and its egregious mis-castings.

This is such small-scale, intimate stuff for Stone, and it should be a breezy game not of cops and robbers but of bad guys and worse guys: Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are Laguna Beach’s star weed farmers and live in a swanky seaside mansion with O (Blake Lively), the girl that they share in a bizarre relationship. They’ve caught the attention of a Mexican drug cartel who want to partner up with them, but Ben and Chon have no intentions of hooking up, so the cartel kingpin (Salma Hayek) orders her men to kidnap O to force the issue.

That all this feels so familiar isn’t a problem--it’s that Stone himself treats it as such and is content to mostly autopilot a film that needs swagger. “Savages” is definitely attempting to tap into that cool vibe that Stone himself helped to formulate in the 90s, but it never really feels all that cool; instead, it feels like one of the many lesser efforts that attempted to ape the hyper-violent stylings of Stone, Tarantino, and Rodriguez. Aside from a few brief moments and performances, “Savages” has the life vacuumed out of it by baffling plotting and its vacuous leads.

Kitsch and Taylor-Johnson just aren’t cool enough, I’m afraid. They try hard, and Taylor-Johnson is playing a different type of character for this sort of thing; his Ben isn’t some scruffy, street-level thug but a Berkley grad Buddhist whose soul is so sensitive that he often looks to be on the verge of tears. Taylor-Johnson is going for a laid-back and zoned out here, but he’s so zoned-out that one begins to think he might be method acting his stoner role a bit too seriously.

For the third time this year, Kitsch gives a performance that’s suitable enough, but it’s starting to look like he has no discernable element to distinguish his characters. He’s done the noble, tortured hero (“John Carter”), affable wash-out-turned-reluctant hero (“Battleship”), and now he’s playing a borderline psychopath in Chon, a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraqi theaters. Despite the characterization, Kitsch still just brings a sort of blankness--he’s not so much smoldering as he is just sort of barely bubbling; he’s supposed to be the bad cop to Johnson’s good cop, but both of these characters feel like they’re in completely over their heads when drawn into the seedier side of their business.

But at least they manage to tread water a little bit; the same can’t be said for Blake Lively, whose surname is a misnomer here. O (which is shortened from the Shakespeare-inspired Ophelia, not that I believe for a second that this girl knows a lick of the bard) is a Malibu Barbie poor little rich valley girl, all but abandoned by her mom but saddled with plenty of issues that have driven her into the arms of two drug runners. She seems interesting, but despite her placement as the film’s droning and agonizing narrator, she’s remarkably low on characterization but high on bewildering dialogue. She’s the type of girl who demands her kidnappers give her salad instead of the pizza they’ve provided, an annoying little twit that’s played with zero presence by Lively, who can’t even look convincing while riding a mall escalator. At no point in the film do I see what these two see in this girl; forget risking life and limb and confronting Mexican drug lords for her--I wouldn't even want to watch her on an episode of Laguna Beach, where she'd be much better suited.

Then again, maybe that’s sort of the point of “Savages,” as everyone involved is reduced to a “what’s mine is mine” mentality, and the film can’t resist at least three instances where the title is said aloud to accentuate that everyone is indeed a savage. Stone has admittedly never had much use for subtlety, but “Savages” is often tacky and dumb, a tangled web of exposition and breakneck criss-crossing plot turns, some of which still manage to be telegraphed nearly 90 minutes ahead of time (when we learn that Hayek’s character has a daughter conveniently living in Laguna, we essentially see the boys’ exit strategy far before they do).

There are a few things to like about “Savages.” Daniel Mindel’s photography gorgeously captures Laguna’s paradisiacal façade that covers up the barbarity bubbling beneath the surface. Some particularly violent sequences will either have you squirming or wishing Stone would try his hand at a “Hostel” flick, depending on your persuasion. Also, Stone’s older guard of actors rules and realizes its caught in the throes of pulp fiction, even if the director himself isn’t always quite sure. Hayek is dialed up to the appropriate hysteric shrew levels, while John Travolta gives an outrageous performance as a sniveling FBI agent in league with Ben and Chon.

It’s Benecio Del Toro, though, who nearly single-handedly rescues “Savages” as Lado, Hayek’s hit-man and lapdog. Like a dime-store Anton Chigurh with an absurd bouffant mullet and exaggerated Mexican accent, Lado spends much of the film knocking off various targets, all the while mugging it up (at one point, he literally twirls his mustache). Del Toro relishes the role--he’s equal parts fox and weasel, arguably the most savage of all the savages, and he’s so, so cool while doing it. In fact, he’s much cooler than just about anyone around him, and I wish “Savages” had just followed Lado and his make-shift day labor crew as they assassinated people. It’s a film where the villains are more compelling than the good guys, so you’re almost actively rooting for them to win.

There’s a possibility they just might--after all, O tells us that she might be telling her narration from beyond the grave. But “Sunset Boulevard” this ain’t, as Stone withholds his most interesting gambit for the climax, where he finally explores the narrative ingenuity promised by such a statement. It might be a little groan-inducing since it causes the film to labor on, but it’s also one of the few vibrant moments that Stone seems to be genuinely interested in delivering. It almost shades the entire movie and forces you to confront that he might have been up to something all along. Somewhere, an interesting story about a needy, damaged girl who wants to believe she’s caught up in a movie like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is attempting to claw its way out of “Savages.” Too bad it's not to be found here and certainly not when that girl is played as being brain-damaged instead of good old-fashioned daddy issues damaged.

“Savages” might be a 130 minute test of an emperor’s new clothes; after all, other preceding moments, such as the lead duo’s “I love you, man” declaration before the big showdown (complete with a Morricone style accompaniment), seem so calculatedly cornball that you want to believe Stone is just taking the piss out of run-and-gun, blaze of glory romance and the farcical War on Drugs. However, this doesn't conceal the truth: Stone is naked or threadbare at best, running on fumes when the film should be huffing them.

He’s just about the only one, too, just about everyone in the movie has sex with their clothes on, which aptly sums “Savages” up: it’s a bit of a poser film that looks sexy, cool, and violent, but it’s afraid to get really dirty and let loose. At one point, O pontificates on Chon’s “wargasms” during a particularly ferocious sexual encounter, but “Savages” just results in one big boregasm that comes after an overlong bout of empty sex.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=22589&reviewer=429
originally posted: 07/06/12 08:34:36
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell entertaining but sordid at times 4 stars
7/31/13 PAUL SHORTT GRIPPING BUT SORDID AND SLEAZY 2 stars
7/28/13 Dee E. Travolta and Hayek are superb in this violent, but brilliant film. 4 stars
12/02/12 mr.mike Travolta is awful, and Del Toro overdoes the Mexican accent. Skip it. 2 stars
11/25/12 action movie fan good taLE OF DRUG PEDDLERS AND RUTHLESS MEXICAN CARTEL OVERSEEERS 3 stars
7/24/12 Mick Gillies Brutal and brilliant - Well worth a look at 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  06-Jul-2012 (R)
  DVD: 13-Nov-2012

UK
  N/A

Australia
  06-Jul-2012
  DVD: 13-Nov-2012




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