Now Playing Review

Savages Stone on Steroids

NOPE – Handheld camera torture scene complete with chainsaw heard off camera. Waves crashing on a sunny beach. Graphic sex scene. All in the first two minutes –  the viewer knows immediately he is settling in to an Oliver Stone film.

But then comes the fly in the ointment.

A female narrator (Blake Lively) soars in, weakly attempts to piggyback the brilliant foreshadowing opening of Sunset Boulevard (“Just because I’m telling you this story doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end.”), and the viewer, this one anyway, knows immediately this is not an Oliver Stone script.

Savages boasts three screenwriting credits. Most of us who pay attention to these sort of things immediately throw up a red flag when we see that. Call it too many cooks in the kitchen or whatever you want, but it usually results in a watered down, over-written non-vision of a film.

To make matters worst, the filmmakers somehow talked their studio money into going with no stars in their three leading roles. Big mistake.

Lively is the Oreo creme filling to cookie cutter bookends, Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson. Stone and his writing companions immediately attempt to enlist us in caring about this sun tanned and well-intended love triangle. But to no avail. Let’s put it this way: if Kitsch and Johnson had been in Point Break they would have been credited as ‘surfer #5’ and ‘surfer #6.’ Say what you want about Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, but they were (are) stars.

Movies like Savages need stars. Imagine True Romance without Slater and Arquette!

Kitsch plays ‘Chon’ and Johnson plays ‘Ben.’ A pair of Laguna Beach pot dealers who sell “the best weed in the world” ‘Chon’ is steel  to ‘Ben’s’ earth. ‘Chon’ is back from two tours in Iraq. He doesn’t have orgasms, he has war-gasms. ‘Ben’ takes his pot money and funds schools in Africa and South America. She freakin’ loves ’em both! Just ask her. She “is the home they never had.”

I guarantee you Oliver Stone did not write that particular gem.

The plot then thickens when a Mexican drug lord wants in on their action.

But these guys are tough. And cute! And they aren’t just gonna cave to some Mexican drug lord (played with sassy machismo by Salma Hayek), so they meet with their lawyer (John Travolta) to figure out an angle. Travolta reminds them they are small potatoes. Then, in one of the best lines of the film, tells them “Don’t fuck with Wal-mart!”

But do they listen?

Fortunately for us, no. Enter Benicio Del Toro as smokin’ Salma’s main thug, ‘Lado.’

If you were looking for a reason to see Savages, Del Toro is it.

He won the Oscar for Traffic, but he cemented his value for most of us in Bryan Singer’s classic 1995 noir who-dunnit, The Usual Suspects, as ‘Fenster,’ the marble mouthed hit-man hood with the red collared shirt and street moxy to spare.

‘Lado’ is about as close as we’re gonna get to Javier Bardem’s ‘Anton Chigurh.‘ When he’s on-screen you just don’t know who is going to lose a limb. Films like Savages rely on that base level of suspense.

As for Blake Lively – who I liked a lot in The Town – never thought I’d say this, but…where’s Kate Hudson when you need her?

Stone has been at it for so long, it is hard to be mad at him for this effort. I’m nearly 200 pages into his biography, so none of this stuff surprises me. The guy has demons galore. Obsesses on his Vietnam experience, loves prostitutes, battled cocaine and other narcotics for years, and lives to alienate and irritate people.

But to know anything about Oliver Stone is to know that he is a writer before he is a director. Therefore, if he’s going to direct a film, he better have written the script.

This script is bad. It has so little confidence in its own merits, that it literally eschews a theme every other page. From “She is the home they never had” to “You don’t change the world, the world changes you” to the final doozy “Savages don’t make deals.”

The Oliver Stone that studio heads used to fear didn’t make deals either. He held out until the script was right. He won Oscars for Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and Midnight Express.

He is not the reason to see Savages. This seems much more like a Tony Scott film.

Sorry Ollie.

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