'Savages' has so little to say that having a narrator is overkill

Universal

By Noah Cohen, For the Daily
Published July 9, 2012

Though Oliver Stone continues to live up to his reputation for unflinching violence, the truth remains clear: violence, sex and drugs do not make a movie. Even under the influence of some glowing acting and nonstop action, “Savages” manages to bore.

Savages


At Quality 16 and Rave
Universal


The movie is a film adaptation of a book written by Don Winslow, who is a much better writer than this screenplay would suggest. The movie follows two marijuana entrepreneurs, Ben (Aaron Johnson, “Albert Nobbs”) and Chon (Taylor Kitch, “Battleship”), as they attempt to skirt domination by an ambitious Mexican cartel. They fail, however, as their shared girlfriend O (Blake Lively, “The Town”) falls into the clutches of Elena (Salma Hayek, TV's “30 Rock”), the almost-ruthless kingpin. The game is then set in motion, with Ben and Chon attempting to comply with the demands of the cartel so that O does not suffer consequences, meanwhile grasping at leverage over Elena with which to ensure O’s rescue.

The dynamic among the three protagonists — Ben, Chon and O — works hard to convince the audience of its sincerity as a functional ménage à trois, and, against the odds, succeeds. We believe that they are a cohesive romantic unit, and this lays the foundation for the much more interesting dynamic between the men, Ben and Chon.

Ben is the mastermind of the operation. The dreadlocked, Buddhist, scientist-hippy who believes conflict can be resolved with peaceful deliberation. This belief is repeatedly stomped upon over the course of the movie, which is where Chon comes in. Chon is the ever-alert muscle, unafraid and more than capable of handling what Ben cannot stomach. O, as the narrator, makes the Spirit/Earth dichotomy very clear at the outset, and the relationship the two men share is touched upon even by Elena and her fantastically creepy right-hand-man, Lado (Benicio Del Toro, “The Wolfman”), who suspects the two are “faggots.”

Lively is good, not exceptional, as the narrator, and plays a good, not exceptional, damsel in distress. Playing her captor, Hayek does a much better job with her own archetype, excellently balancing the expected fragility of someone who genuinely loves with the grit of a leader for whom love is translated as weakness. Del Toro shines as brightly as scum can shine, but may have taken a little too much initiative in making the audience hate him. His creepiness goes beyond the pale, and finds an electric chemistry with Dennis, the DEA agent played by John Travolta, who has a deceptively small part in the action of the movie, but whose role weirdly and unexpectedly mars the movie’s ending in a big way.

There is a tired twist to the film, and the intro-and-outro narrations are grossly unnecessary, even taking the time to define the titular motif, “savagery,” an unforgivable faux pas. The flow of the movie, contrary to Stone’s reputation, is ambling and unfocused, despite carrying a mind-numbingly clear objective throughout. The film takes too long to reach its conflict, and once it does, seems not to know what to do with itself outside of wantonly blowing up cars and forcing the audience into paroxysms of anxiety.

In short, you get what you pay for, which is true only in my particular case, because I happened to forget to bring my wallet to the theater and had to sneak into the midnight release. It wasn’t crowded, and rightly not. “Savages” did not merit a crowd.