The lead story here, undeniably, is that Oliver Stone is up to his old tricks.
“Savages” is old school Stone. It’s a story with a cast of crazy and colorful characters, caught up in violent situations, soaked in drugs and sex, performed by a great cast who all seem to be relishing their deliciously cheesy roles, and wrapped up in Stone’s unmistakable, inimitable directorial stylings.
I don’t know if I can call it good, but it sure as Hell is fun.
Ben and Chon (sic) are high-tech, major league marijuana dealers living on the California coast. Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is the brains behind the operation. Dual majoring in botany and business, he has skill to grow plants that are genetically modified and specially grown to achieve supreme potency. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is the muscle. After serving tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he has the killer instinct, the knowledge, and the special forces contacts to protect the business. They serve as diametric contrast to each other: Ben is the happy, hippie, buddhist who wants to resolve things peacefully whenever possible. Chon is the violent, might makes right type.
Both share the love of ”O”. Ophelia (Blake Lively) is their stoner love interest, shared between the two weed lords in a modern-day ménage à trois. Ophelia also narrates occasionally, as evidenced in the trailer below
When offered a “deal” (think hostile takeover) by a Mexican cartel, Chon advocates they counter with an immediate, violent response, but Ben sees an opportunity to get out of the business altogether. When the two offer to freely hand over their contacts, territories and techniques, but without their personal services, the cartel takes offence. In order to force the duo into service, they kidnap O.
Of course, instead of becoming compliant, Ben and Chon retaliate. They turn ”Savage”.
The cartel which captured O is headed by Elena Sánchez, played by Salma Hayek as a vindictive, cold-blooded, ruthless woman. In her command is Benicio del Toro, who authors a creepy, lecherous, semi-unintelligble henchman. And on the periphery is John Travolta as a crooked DEA agent waist deep in the morass of all of this mess. Hayek tries to freeze people in their tracks with her frigidity, Del Toro uses his natural abilities to give folks the heebie jeebies, and Travolta is a natural as a rat/weasel. None of them are asked to stretch, but you could look at the flip side of that and say that they’re all well cast. Each of the three seem to be enjoying playing the parts they’ve been given, and that, in turn lends an enjoyable air to the proceedings.
Not that that’s sorely needed or anything, as the movie certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. There were times, especially early, when the narration almost gave me the giggles. Bon mots such as “I have orgasms, he has wargasms”, and “Drugs are supposed to be bad, but in a bad, bad world, they’re actually good” left me wishing I brought a notebook in order to scribble them down as I watched. ”Savages” is loaded with them. The situation is crazy, too. The main characters are millionaire weed dealers who are generally good guys, because they try to never hurt anyone, but have to go on a rampage when their shared girlfriend is stolen. They have to try to get at an evil matriarch protected by a psychotic scumbag whose assassin cover is a gardening crew. “Savages” is never a ”So bad it’s good” movie, but it’s not too far down the road, either. The story is relatively straight, but the characters and situations are crazy and colorful, to say the least.
The icing on this cinematic delectable is the directorial stylings of Mr Oliver Stone. As director and co-writer of the screenplay, Stone’s fingerprints are all over this – in a good way, if you’re a fan. While not as showy as say, ”Natural Born Killers”, you’re still in store for some sudden dutch angles, black and white, scene transitions straight out of Salvador Dali, and in one prominent instance, even a rewind. Oh yeah, baby. It should be pointed out as a warning sign and selling point both. Depending on where you shake out on the heavy-handed artistry of everybody’s favorite conspiracy theorist, you’re either in for a treat or some torture.
Personally, I’m a big fan. And as such, I enjoyed “Savages” very, very much. But there’s good reason why it’s currently at 53% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not for everyone, and it would be extraordinarily easy to put on a critics hat and point out the ludicrous elements. I mean, they’re there in abundance. But if you’re a fan of Oliver Stone, and you like this lineup of performers, or if you just want to see a flashy, fun drug warfare romp… “Savages” is the movie for you.