- Running time:
- 130 minutes
- Taylor Kitsch -
- Blake Lively -
- Aaron Johnson -
- John Travolta -
- Benicio Del Toro -
Not surprisingly, given its title, Savages has a significant and grisly body count.
This druggy crime thriller has a bloated and familiar plot and is plagued by tonal inconsistencies. Everything leads up to a pair of drawn-out climactic resolutions that seek to be all things to all people.
This tale of a pair of California marijuana farmers-turned-millionaires and their shared Laguna Beach bunny never achieves the Pulp Fiction-style intrigue it aspires to, amid vicious dealings with Mexican drug cartels, kidnappings and endless double-crossings.
Based on Don Winslow's fast-paced, snarky novel, the film waters down the edginess of his page-turner. It does, however, occasionally draw upon his too-cool-for-the-room prose stylings. Narrator Blake Lively (who plays O, short for Ophelia) describes one of the two main protagonists as "a Buddhist'' and the other as "a Baddist."
O is the leggy blond gal pal of pot entrepreneurs Chon (Taylor Kitsch), who is a former Navy SEAL, and Ben (Aaron Johnson), a peace-loving UC-Berkeley grad who uses some of his business proceeds to build schools in Third World countries. The two are best pals who formed a highly successful homegrown industry.
They also share the affections of O. The story hinges on the premise that the two men, polar opposites in outlook and ethics, will do anything for her. But the ardor underlying their willingness to risk everything for her never feels convincing. And O is a vapid shopaholic who scarcely deserves their heroic efforts. In Winslow's book the threesome's back stories are explained, making their unusual relationship a tad clearer.
Savages comes off as director Oliver Stone trying to rekindle his Natural Born Killers mojo from 1994. But when the bigger-name stars show up here in cartoonish roles, things feel more silly than gritty.
Benicio Del Toro plays Lado, a nasty enforcer in a Mexican drug cartel run by the ruthless Elena (Salma Hayek). She's a mega-powerful and vicious drug lord who can't get her college student daughter to return her calls. John Travolta plays a cynical DEA agent on the take.
Johnson, who is British, is believable enough as a hippie weed grower, and Kitsch is better in this hawkish role than in his earlier movies John Carter and Battleship (though that's not saying much). Lively doesn't do much but look miserable, stoned or blandly smiley.
When the Tijuana-based cartel demands that Ben and Chon partner with them, a turf war ensues that, while never boring, also is never wholly convincing. When contrasted with tense and smart drug-running thrillers such as Traffic, which also starred Del Toro, Savages seems all the more flimsy and gratuitously lurid.
While the cinematography is consistently striking, the story ricochets among ironic humor, brutal violence and awkward stabs at genuine emotion.
While Savages aims for provocative and dynamic, it comes off as predictable and strained.
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