dir Oliver Stone
prd Moritz Borman, Eric Kopeloff
scr Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone
with Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Demian Bichir, Emile Hirsch, Diego Catano, Shea Whigham, Joel David Moore, Ali Wong
release US 6.Jul.12, UK 21.Sep.12
12/US Universal 2h11
Happy family: Kitsch, Lively and Johnson

del toro hayek travolta
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Savages Stone returns to a more raucously subversive style of visually whizzy filmmaking (see Natural Born Killers) with this lively drama that shifts into an action thriller. But the whole film feels like a cop out, from the terrible narration to a climactic gimmick.

Manly ex-soldier Chon (Kitsch) and brainy earth-lover Ben (Johnson) have been friends since their teens and have made a fortune as Orange County pot dealers. They live in an idyllic beach house with their shared girlfriend O (Lively), and everything's just fine until a Mexican drug cartel goon (Bichir) makes them an offer they can't refuse. With the cold-hearted Lado (Del Toro), henchman for the cartel boss (Hayek), breathing down their necks, they turn to their corrupt drug-agent pal (Travolta) for help. Then Lado kidnaps O. And the game is on.

The plot has promise, and the sharp, clever actors make the worst dialog sound almost snappy. But the script is a real problem, constantly stating the blindingly obvious while grinding us down with O's trite voiceover. While Lively is decent, the character is so thinly written that we never understand why these guys would risk their lives for her. But then Chon and Ben aren't hugely complex, as each one's only personality trait is milked for all its worth.

Which leaves Hayek to walk away with the movie as she chomps shamelessly on the scenery then purrs sexily so we love her even though she's the villain. In other words, this is a baffling collision of conflicting themes. None of the female characters are much more than catwalk models while, aside from Ben's peacenik, the men are bloodthirsty, gun-toting thugs. So we know it's only a matter of time before Ben finds his inner brute.

Even more disturbing is the relentless moralising. Sex scenes shy away from telling us anything about the characters, which is a missed opportunity in a film about a three-way relationship. Similarly, the filmmakers are too timid to explore the more interesting bromance between Chon and Ben. And in a story about drug dealers and users, the cautionary message about addiction feels lamely tacked on. All of which leaves the film feeling so artificial that it never connects with us on any level. Even if it looks great.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs 12.Sep.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall