'Savages' Review By Bryan Yentz
... "I have orgasms. . . Chon, has wargasms." Yes. This is an actual line from the film. No. It is not played for laughs...
Yes. This is an actual line from the film.
No. It is not played for laughs.
And Shakespeare wept. . .
When a film begins with such a pretentious line of monotone narration, my immediate interest in a film takes a sudden plunge into "Really?" territory. Not only does such a simple line of poor dialogue form a foundation for the poor script to follow, it establishes the exact kind of character(s) you'll be dealing with for the next two hours; characters in which the mentioning of a "wargasm" is their attempt at being deep and meaningful.
Directed by Oliver Stone, SAVAGES is an extremely by-the-numbers thriller following the exploits of two very different drug running organizations. While one is dedicated to the peaceful side of dealing and growing (our protagonists), the other--led by a miscast Salma Hayek--is fueled by violence and inhumanity. When Ben and Chon (Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch) refuse to partner with Elena (Hayek) and her psychopathic followers, she abducts the one thing that matters most to them, Blake Lively, oh, I'm sorry, "O". . . Yes, her name is "O". . . And yes, give yourself a pat on the back if you believe this relates to a certain Shakespearean play as well. Anyways, with "O" now missing, the drug-dealing duo arm themselves and organize hit after blackmail after explosive attack on Elena and her corporation of opiates.
If you think any of that sounds interesting, you'd be half right. While a storyline such as this would infer numerous set pieces of unrepentant carnage (as the trailer, MPAA rating, and knock-off ARMY OF TWO imagery would have you believe), the actual narrative is rather bereft of frenetic shoot-outs, intense gunplay and earth-shaking explosions. Actually, only about twenty minutes of the over two hour run-time is actually dedicated to the brutal bits, and when they finally do rear their head, are rather bland and forgettable. Most of the story is split between developing Chon, Ben and their unified exploits to rescue "O", watching Salma Hayek try and act evil and observing Benicio Del Toro slither about the screen as the film's most vile character, Lado (and dammit if the man doesn't nail his sickening, love-to-hate-him role).
Since the subject matter herein is comprised of EVERY drug-themed-thriller before it, Stone tries desperately to add a layer of spastic direction and editing to dissuade from the fact that not a whole lot is actually going on in the film. The acid-washed aesthetics feel more akin to a Tony Scott film like DOMINO rather than something with an Oliver Stone name attached to it. While I actually dug such an energetic approach to depicting the film's content, it nonetheless amounted to a "so what?" since all of the intense visual cues parallel such uninteresting on-screen material. All of the technical flair simply rings hollow when everything it's created for is so uninvolving.
While the villainous side of SAVAGES definitely makes you yearn for some form of comeuppance (mainly due to Del Toro's unapologetically vile display as Elena's right hand), the "heroes" herein are obnoxious, entitled, rich-kids with perfect lives, devoid of actual work or responsibility. They appear and act as though they've been ripped from the newest season of MTV's "THE HILLS". Thus, watching them bitch and moan about life and "how unfair it is" becomes grating and monotonous. Taylor Kitsch hasn't turned off his "John Carter" since it bombed at the box-office and is once again constantly on edge; always yearning for a fight. Juxtaposing him is Aaron Johnson who is just a massive p*ssy, and Blake Lively. . . Well, she simply can't act. But she does have big boobs, so, uh. . . That counts for something? Ultimately, who cares? As characters, they question themselves, their motives and their sins, but they never actually grow from them. They're the same people at the end of the film as they are at the beginning. . . Except, "O", who seems a bit more indifferent, I guess, judging from her last, yawn-inducing monologue. They're simply "characters" Frankensteined from a rusted barrel of "Vapid, Stereotypical Protagonist Traits".
What's all the more befuddling is the way that SAVAGES ends. . . Or, doesn't end, actually. . .
What begins as a much-deserved climax of bullets and blood-shed literally STOPS and rewinds itself.
Again, I'm serious.
Just as the narrative meets an appropriately bleak conclusion, everything fades to black and white and the grating, soulless voice of Blake Lively cuts the silence like a dull knife. At this point, her vapid characters states, "Or, at least that's how I thought it would end. . ." and then, the entire last five minutes of action is rewound and restarted. Meaning, nothing of what you just witnessed actually happened. Villains didn't meet the receiving end of vigilante justice, our leads didn't go out in a glorious display of close-quarter gunfire, snipers didn't dash heads with .50 caliber rounds. . . None of that actually happened. So what does? A climax affined to everything else; one that is dull, empty, and absolutely "meh". What's hilariously worse is that the story's most repugnant character--a rapist, torturing, child-killing, head-chainsawing, face-whipping antagonist--makes it out scot-free with the most promising of undeserved outcomes! "Realism" my ass.
And why the hell would a captive take the time to fantasize about her death AS she's being rescued, anyway?
That gets another, "Really?" in my book.
As if knowing the audience would expect an action-oriented end to all of the madness, Stone sought to satiate such viewers with one ending, while making "sense" of all of the back-stabbing and betrayal with another. In turn, he's robbed both parties as there's simply no call for a "Gotcha!" finish. This isn't an M. Night flick and it's not a script which has consistently toyed with the audience so as to make one think that reality might be screwed with by the questionable climax.
There are morsels of entertaining elements to be had here, like a quirky exchange between Del Toro and Travolta, as well as some skin-crawling scenes of grisly imagery, but the entire experience just feels like an homage to the notion of "been there, done that". As if Stone and co. were afraid to make anything new and exciting so they settled with mediocrity. I mean, I'm not asking for two hours worth of ingenuity, but at least deliver your final presentation in a compelling way. Earnest direction and storytelling can more than make up for a lack of creativity. I mean, just look at something like SMOKIN' ACES. It's a meager story about assassins trying to kill a single person, yet Joe Carnahan directs and paces it with such flair that the linearity of the plot and characters don't matter.
While SAVAGES had potential as a guilty pleasure; one which could have rode the wave of its own ridiculousness, it ultimately plays itself far too seriously and thinks itself--like an MTV brat--far cooler and hipper than it actually is. SAVAGES isn't terrible, but sure as hell has some immensely questionable aspects and a story structure which is built from sheer imitation. If you want a flick that involves many of the same elements herein, but delivers it with panache, wit, humor and absolute gusto, check out Mel Gibson's recent escapade, GET THE GRINGO. Regardless, pompous critics are already praising SAVAGES, but overall, I found it to be an uninspired concoction of everything before it; one that adds nothing new to the well-worn formula (let alone anything memorable).