Grae Drake
Savages Review

Grae's Rating:


Just say no.

Oliver Stone makes movies that are either completely berserk or say something provocative--or both. Savages, instead of encouraging revolution or fighting for what's right or something, just encourages you to make "savages" the secret word of the day so you get to scream and throw your hands up when someone says it (which happens about three times too many in the script). It's better than Alexander or Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but it's no return to form. It's just a mildly interesting tale of some drug dealers and their antics.

Laguna Beach is a Southern California paradise that is home to free-love humanitarian Ben (Aaron Johnson) and violent ex-military hothead Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a good guy-bad guy team who grows and sells some wicked weed that came from the Middle East. No need to give it any more examination, because it doesn't go any farther past that. Between them (literally) is O (Blake Lively), their blonde live-in girlfriend who doesn't have any issues getting freaky with both of them after she spends their money and smokes their product. It was lovely to see her get comeuppance from reality, even though that's not what I was supposed to be rooting for.

Stone's move to include the Mexican drug cartel is what skews the movie towards pulp heaven. When the Mexicans become aware that this independent weed exists and is hugely profitable, they move in and destroy Ben and Chon's peaceful operation and kidnap O. The harbinger of good things coming to an end is Lado (Benicio Del Toro), a hired goon who gets his hands dirty so his big-deal drug cartel boss Elena (Salma Hayek) doesn't have to. The best part about her, though, is that it's easy to imagine her earning her right to sit down and get a manicure while she hires someone to whip an informant to death as she watches over Skype. Salma Hayek owns this movie, with her silk blouses and shiny Bettie Page bangs. When she and Benicio Del Toro were together onscreen, I never wanted it to end. They may be drug kingpins, but their performances allude to so much more. Where's their movie? Feel free to throw in John Travolta too, because as the DEA agent who is playing both sides against the middle, he's better than I can remember him being in the last 10 years.

When Chon and Ben finally get the courage to go on the offensive, they still can't hold a candle character-wise to their bad guy counterparts. It all adds nothing new to add to the drug conversation, or even to exploitation films in general. The one thing it does have going for it is shocking violence that comes out of nowhere, like a movie defibrillator that shocks you awake with striking realism. It was like a movie defibrillator that got me yelling out loud. Then I fell asleep again if the white people were onscreen. Looks like Oliver chose to focus on the wrong story--what about a Mexican Godfather chronicling the rise of Elena? That would be worth a three parter. And when you make that one, Ollie, please don't completely ruin your ending. Sitting through the movie was dull enough without you apologizing for finally giving it some cajones.


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