Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Shane Salerno, Don Winslow
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro, John Travolta
Rated R | 127 Minutes
Release Date: July 6, 2012
“There’s something wrong with your love story, baby.” – Elena (Salma Hayek)
You’re goddamn right there is, Salma. Oliver Stone‘s latest film, Savages, is a heavy-handed, ineffectual effort that produces plenty of smoke with little fire.
Based on the novel by Don Winslow, Savages stars Blake Lively (Green Lantern) as Ophelia, one of many detestable, unbelievable characters in this moth-eaten shambles of a story. Ophelia is a blonde-haired flower child with the unique benefit of having not one, but two douche-bag boyfriends!
Former Navy SEAL and ex-mercenary Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), a charitable Buddhist-slash-environmentalist (code for “white guy with dreadlocks”), run a lucrative business growing some of the most potent marijuana ever developed. That’s right, the ultra-aggressive dick you hated in high school and the pacifist Greenpeace volunteer who looks down on you for not recycling are BFFs and they’re totally cool with sharing the same clueless trust fund hippie.
The three-way love affair comes to a screeching halt, however, when Ophelia is kidnapped by Mexico’s notorious Baja Cartel, led by Elena Sanchez (Salma Hayek) and her henchman Lado (Benicio del Toro). The Cartel has kidnapped Ophelia to use her as a bargaining chip in getting a substantial cut of Ben and Chon’s weed business, sending periodic threats in the form of Al Qaeda-esque hand-held torture videos that are more comical than horrifying.
The entire plot of this film hinges on the idea that not one, but two idiots would go through Hell and murder countless Mexicans to rescue their silly, entitled American girlfriend. If Ophelia was a realistic character that you could empathize with, I might buy it – but she’s not. Ophelia is a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out of a human being.
As the film’s narrator, her explanations of the characters’ motives are hackneyed and ham-fisted. Everything she says is a poorly written cliche. At one point she explains the difference between Ben and Chon by noting that Chon (the ex-mercenary) doesn’t have orgasms but wargasms… WARGASMS!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!
And there’s Taylor Kitsch, star of such illustrious films as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, John Carter, and Battleship. Poor, poor Taylor Kitsch – this guy can’t catch a break. He isn’t a terrible actor – he was great in Friday Night Lights – but he certainly isn’t helping matters here. 22-year-old Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) tries to be the Mark Zuckerberg of marijuana, reminiscent of Patrick Swayze’s surfer-poet in Point Break, except less awesome.
Benicio del Toro, on the other hand, chews up the scenery as Lado, Oliver Stone’s attempt at creating Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) from No Country for Old Men. Lado is such an over-the-top bad guy that he comes off as comical and more likeable than the “good guys” in the film. John Travolta shows up sporadically as a corrupt DEA agent and tries his best to bail out water on Stone’s sinking ship – but it’s a pointless exercise.
What happened to Oliver Stone? Platoon. Born on the Fourth of July. JFK. Nixon. The last time Stone made a good film, Bill Clinton was in his first term as President. Savages is an absolute groan-fest. At my screening, the entire theater moaned during the film’s tedious attempts at exposition and laughed out loud during moments meant to be intense and dramatic. Stone’s excessive use of violence is clearly a diversion to make up for the complete ineffectiveness of the story and its characters.
For me, Savages is easily the worst film of the year so far. If Salma Hayek and the Baja Cartel really wanted to torture Blake Lively, they would have strapped her to a chair and made her watch Savages until she cracked, screaming and pleading to never hear her own voiceover again. Lively recently appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and told the talk show host that she bought the Savages crew a gift when the film wrapped “because they needed something nice after working with him [Stone] for that long.”
Lively had “I Survived Oliver Stone” t-shirts made for the crew. When Letterman asked how the director felt about her gift, Lively bit her nails and laughed nervously. “He didn’t care for that.” It’s pretty obvious Lively didn’t enjoy her ‘Oliver Stone Experience’ and I can’t say I blame her. If making the film was one-tenth as painful as watching it, the Gossip Girl star deserves a Congressional Medal of Honor for her work in Savages – a failure so epic, it leaves me longing for the early-May blunders of Berg’s Battleship and Burton’s Dark Shadows.
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