I was hoping that Savages would be a pleasant surprise this summer, something free of webs and capes with a decidedly adult slant to it from one of America’s legendary filmmakers. (Say what you will about the films of Oliver Stone, but the dude is pretty legendary.) Unfortunately, Savages is just a simple drug drama with very little action and zero complex characters, leaving me disconnected and apathetic about every character’s fate. This is not a good movie.
Ben (Johnson), a hippie pansy who studied business and botany in college, and Chon (Kitsch), a former soldier with a chip on his shoulder, are best friends who grow the best weed in the world from their Laguna Beach home base. They share a girlfriend – the lascivious and slinky O (Lively), our narrator who is in love with both men – and they all live a bizarre, drug-fueled threeway heavy lifestyle that I’d wager is completely unrelatable to most audience members. Look, not every character in every movie has to be relatable, or even likeable, but they do have to be interesting; because I didn’t care about anything that these characters are doing, I never got invested in their well-being later in the film when the shit hits the fan.
The Mexican cartel, headed by Elena La Reina (Hayek) and her lackey mercenary Lado (del Toro), want Ben and Chon’s business for themselves. When the boys refuse to deal, the cartel kidnaps O and the guys are forced to turn to a dirty DEA agent (Travolta) to help provide them with intel so they can stage a rescue. The performances are all fine – even Kitsch, who has had perhaps one of the worst years of any actor in recent Hollywood history with John Carter and Battleship, is decent as the testosterone-heavy Chon – but it’s really hard to stay invested in anything these characters are doing when none of them have any complexity to them at all. Everything is surface level here, and there are no surprises to keep us on our toes. Savages isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just not a good one: nothing particularly interesting happens, and a lot of the plot points have been explored much more effectively in other media (“Breaking Bad” came to mind a few times).
Hayek, who is basically playing a fictional version of Griselda Blanco from Cocaine Cowboys, is perhaps the film’s only watchable character, and that’s just because she’s the only one who seems like a real person. While O is in captivity, Elena becomes a mother figure to her and there’s a duality between this relationship and the one with Elena’s real daughter, who actually wants little to do with her dangerous mother. Everyone else goes through the entire film exactly as they’re written in the beginning: Travolta is a sneering crooked agent, del Toro is a psycho murderer, Johnson is a peace-loving businessman, and Kitsch is a crazy-eyed war vet. No one learns much or goes through any sort of transformative arc, and the film’s ending is one of the weakest I’ve seen in a while. O, our annoying narrator who provides incessant voiceovers throughout the movie, gives us the old bait and switch as the closing minutes play out, showing us one thing and then saying the equivalent of “just kidding – none of that actually happened” and moving on to the “real” ending, which is even worse than the one we just saw. It’s a giant cop-out, and it’s likely enough to piss off even the most casual movie-goer.
The film has a cool visual style to it, with a lot of saturated colors and a narrative momentum that keeps the film rolling forward despite an overall lack of compelling events. There’s one big action sequence that’s very well-directed, but it made me long for more; it’s clear Stone knows what he’s doing, but the action gets lost in the shuffle of a story about uninteresting characters who try to rescue an even more uninteresting character. Until next time…