MOVIE REVIEW: Savages
SAVAGES-- 1 STAR
In some settings, when people watch movies, it becomes hard for the audience to put their personal morals and experiences away when watching certain topics or characters. Here's what I mean. Either they can't really identify with who or what they are watching or have a personal opinion or personal experience for or against what they are watching. For example, real cops will critique the hell out of a cop movie the same way a stay-at-home mom will blast elements of movie parenting and child care. On the other end of the spectrum, people who aren't cops and aren't moms are not going to get it either way, whether it's griping or understanding.
That was my problem with the uneven tone of Oliver Stone's Savages. You see, I don't smoke marijuana, deal drugs, or live an entitled and decadent life on the beach in southern California. I don't know about it, don't care to, and don't want to. I'm not going to pretend to either, or it's going to take me a lot to do so.
Our main trio of characters in Savages are a double-major botany/business Buddhist genius Ben (Aaron Johnson of Kick-Ass), his best friend protector and former Navy SEAL Chon (Taylor Kitsch of John Carter and Battleship), and, finally, the princess rich girl muse O (short for Ophelia, played by Blake Lively of Green Lantern and TV's Gossip Girl) who bangs them both. Sorry, but those are three characters I just couldn't believe or identify with. So, when these three decadent criminals (ho-hum and boo-hoo) run into trouble for being who they are, sorry if I don't care. It's made even worse by a boring and pretentious voice-over from Lively's O that rings so incredibly hollow all movie long.
While serving his country in Afghanistan, Chon was able to smuggle back the finest marijuana seeds in the world. (SIDEBAR: Does the U.S. Army not check their guys? If we can't even bring 3.1 ounces mouthwash on a plane, how do you get seeds for drugs past their or even regular security?). With that level of product and the brain to grow dynamic new strains, Ben is able to take those humble beginnings and create the finest and most potent weed in the country. Cha-ching! Business is good! Chon couldn't care less about the money, while Ben uses it to be "green" and build wells and schools in poor foreign countries. Awww... give the drug dealer a medal. They have a DEA agent on the payroll (John Travolta, who seems to be eating in every scene), a pimping house, and they share the menage a trios affections of the bleach blond shopping mall princess O.
When you have all that, what could possibly go wrong? Oh wait. They're drug dealers and criminals that begin to outsell their competition and make them look bad. That's especially shitty when your competition are the baddest decapitating hombres of the Mexican drug cartels south of the border. They don't just sell. They own. Fronted by their glossy suit (Oscar nominee Demian Bichir from A Better Life) and supported by their grotesque hit man (Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro from Traffic) behind the scenes, they are led by bitch-on-ruedas Elena "La Reina" (Salma Hayek).
When Ben and Chon disrespectfully say no to their offer of letting them in on their stuff, against Travolta's advice, the cartel doesn't take that too kindly to the point that they kidnap O for leverage. That triggers our pair of scorned lovers to bend to demands, but also react with a little bit of retaliation. That spins Savages into violent clashes, backdoor deals, double-crosses, and the dumbest bait-and-switch happy ending possible from Oliver Stone.
The unevenness of Savages comes from the peaks and valleys of our rooting interest for Chon, Ben, and O. For a while, we're enviously digging their cool lifestyle, the drugs, the cars, and the hot sex. Who wouldn't? Then, we're hit with the extreme violence of torture, decapitation, and dismemberment by which the cartel operates. The bad taste washes over in a hurry. We sure don't want to be those three anymore and don't have much to root for.
After that, like a good Facebook friend of mine told me after also watching Savages, if you've seen one drug dealer/drug cartel movie, you've seen them all and you'll need a shower after this one. Nothing here is new. Everyone, especially Del Toro and Hayek, has been better in other movies. No character is nearly as engaging as Johnny Depp in Blow, Denzel Washington in American Gangster, or Al Pacino in Scarface. Considering a talent like Oliver Stone, whose won and been nominated for Academy Awards from Platoon and JFK all the way to Wall Street and Born on the Fourth of July, we should be getting something brilliant enough to rival Traffic , but this movie can't even top New Jack City or even Half Baked.
LESSON #1: DON'T F - - K WITH MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS-- Let's start off with the obvious. You are a pacifist nerd, one ex-Navy SEAL, and Paris Hilton Barbie. You don't stand a chance against an entire organization of hardened criminals and vicious killers that outnumber you 100 to 1, even if you play Joe Cocker and get a little help from your friends. Take the deal and say yes. It's worth a 20% loss to stay in one piece and above a dirt nap. Take the easy way, not the hard way.
LESSON #2: DRUGS ARE A NATURAL RESPONSE TO INSANITY-- That's a terrible nugget from the "woe-is-me" voice-over from Lively. Do you know what else is a natural response to insanity? Help, therapy, exercise, or knitting. Get over yourself.
LESSON #3: IF YOU WANT TO CONTROL SOMEONE, TAKE WHAT THEY LOVE-- For as much as a two-year-old will have a meltdown when you take his or her favorite stuffed animal or blanket, so will sexually open drug dealers when you take their piece of ass. Next time, control your girl. Sarcasm aside, this is still true logic. Hit your opponent where it hurts. Get that necessary collateral. Dangle that which is the carrot they will blindly chase and control your adversary.