Savages is the work of an auteur having fun, but with little regard for quality or art. It’s a sensational movie and I mean that in the sense that a tabloid is filled with sensational news. Lurid, sleazy and colorful, it’s a movie that seeks to entertain with brazen force. It’s startling and memorable, but also superficial and trashy. To a certain extent it succeeds. Lately Oliver Stone’s track record hasn’t been as solid as it once was in the 80s. Yet he’s still able to entice talented stars to his productions. There’s a trio of powerhouse supporting parts that very nearly save the picture.
Savages tells the tale of marijuana growers Ben (the brains) and Chon (the brawn) a couple of best friends living in Laguna Beach who have become very successful at what they do. They share a girlfriend of sorts named Ophelia. Nicknamed “O” she and her men have sex, grow pot, make lots of money. Their glossy, sun soaked ménage à trois lifestyle is photographed like a 70s travelogue for Saint-Tropez. Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson and Blake Lively occupy the starring roles. They’re outwardly attractive but hollow charisma has the combined personality of a single Mylar balloon. That’s not really an issue because they’re supposed to be a hedonistic trio of beach loving, California friends. They nail their parts. Over dinner Ophelia likens their relationship to the one in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and my mind questioned whether such a vacant airhead would have even ever heard of that film.
Savages is highlighted by a trio of supporting performances by a game cast that are in on the joke of this ridiculous spectacle. Ben and Chon’s business attract the attention of a Mexican drug cartel. Elena Sánchez is the head of this gang and she sends her representatives to make an offer to form a partnership with her intimidating group. Known as La Reina or The Queen, Salma Hayek inhabits the role with gusto. She sports Bettie Page bangs and a chunky diamond necklace that would make Joan Crawford envious. It is a bit hard to believe that a woman so concerned with fashion and makeup would be such a ruthless powerful drug cartel leader but that’s what makes the role so deliciously absurd. She’s joined by Benicio del Toro who depicts her right hand henchman. He delivers his lines with a hilariously thick Mexican accent. At some points it’s almost a parody of a voice, like Speedy Gonzales played at half the speed. Also adding to the fun is John Travolta in a “why me” portrayal as a slimy DEA agent covering both sides. It’s a liberating display and welcome comic relief every time he’s on screen.
In the end, the narrative is simply too sloppy. There are moments of genuine promise. When Ben and Chon finally go on the offensive, their planned attack on the cartel is an exhilarating frenzy of excitement. But right after, the chronicle flounders with assorted scenes that do nothing to advance character or plot. For each brilliant segment that accelerates the script in a good way there are 3 more that knock it back. At 130 minutes, there are long stretches that could have easily been edited out that would’ve made the drama tighter and much more engaging. Blake Lively’s flat toned narration isn’t any comfort. It feels like death whenever the director lazily relies on her dispassionate intonations to help carry the story. Additionally several scenes dwell on unpleasant details to no apparent purpose other than to disgust the viewer. Savages will have interest for some viewers who can look past all the problems. Ultimately the negatives outweighed the positives for me to truly recommend this film.