Lacking the books necessary connections and a singularly plausible reasoning for its sentiment, three time Oscar winner Stone has created an engaging and disgusting tale that drives us to the fascinating precipice which is his mind but in a vehicle without tyres or steering wheel and populated by a vapid and shallow characters of which we have no empathy.
With the puzzling hallucination-induced mojo of the 1994's cult-classic phenomenon Natural Born Killers slowly fading in the rear view, Stone devotes his attention to moral entanglements, scummy ethos of the drug underworld, torture, blood, mayhem and star power.
Berkeley graduate Ben (Aaron Johnson) is a peacefully and charitable genius botanist whilst his diametrically opposed best-friend Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is a two-tour mentally damaged former Navy SEAL; together they make the perfect man.
As business partners, they are Laguna Beach entrepreneurs, the brain and brawn respectively behind a highly lucrative experimental marijuana goldmine. On his last tour in Afghanistan, Chon smuggled back some prime seed which Ben cultivated and alchemized into some of "the best weed in the world" which they sell locally through legal medical channels whilst making the real money shipping large quantities out of state.
Simultaneously, the duo also shares a one-of-a-kind ménage a trois companionship with a single extraordinary beauty O - short for Ophelia (Blake Lively). For the three sides of one love, described as "the buddist", "the badass" and "the home", Life is idyllic and without complication.
But when the Mexican Baja Cartel arrive in town, demanding partnership Ben and Chon and seizing control of their trade and methods, the boys must rethink their operations. Shown why falling in line as the Ben & Jerry's of Dope is inevitable under the new Darwinian regime via interesting movie bite consisting of decapitations and further intimidations.
Disgruntled by the refusal of partnership, the merciless head of the Cartel Elena (Salma Hayek) commands her brutally sadistic enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro) to show the boys how sacrificing something they hold dear will easily force their compliance. Although kidnapping O might be the wrong move.
Grossly underestimating the unbreakable hippie bond among the trio, Ben and Chon's reply is to wage a turf war against the cartel. Stakes get higher and vicious ploys unfold. Seemingly an unwinnable battle of wills, the boys enlist the reluctant and slippery assistance of a dirty DEA agent (John Travolta) to bring their fuzzy memory of a perfect life back into focus.
A not-so-stirring story about love, conviction and determination, the whole theme hinges on the believability of the trios adoring love, which at no point is really convincing. All of the characters seem like predicable stereotypes, Lively, Kitsch, Johnson, Hayek and Travolta are all-so-round in their roles. Del Toro was the only one who seemed to dig-deep to find something worthwhile and ultimately disturbing.
The filming style jumps from black-white to perfume-commercial all in extreme close-up without any thought for continuity, at least Stone's 1994 offering told you why the stylistic changes were relevant whilst the overtly labyrinthine negotiations which weren't that intricate and ultimately talked itself out of viewer interest.
The verdict: Like a tempting siren inviting you in, O beckons "Just because I'm telling you this story... doesn't mean I'm alive at the end of it." And my reply is simple, just because Stone once had an endearing ruthless energy, doesn't mean that coming back after a decade of suppressing his lurid tendencies will yield a memorable response, as much as we all wish it would.
Published: The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication: 19/10/2012
Ophelia (Blake Lively) the beautiful Chon (Taylor Kitsch) the muscle and Ben the brains (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are in a committed threesome relationship heading a professionally organized pot manufacture and distribution network. When Elena (Salma Hayek), a brutal lonely cartel heiress is looking to venture out of territory and plans to acquire their network, the trio has mixed thoughts about the approach. Their plan to trick the cartel by jumping town gets foiled when Ophelia is kidnapped and tortured by Lado (Benicio Del Toro), they are left with no option than to oblige their rules. Ben has one last trick up his sleeve when he turns to Dennis (John Travolta) a dirty corrupt cop for assistance.
While Aaron Taylor-Johnson got his look and body language right, his voice still comes out as the nerdy awkward teenager. Though there is enough drama and scenarios created to let you root for the male duo, it is the supporting cast full of popular stars that make this movie work to an extent while the movie jumps from one silly premise to another. The climax is even more messy that the director didn't look like he has made up his mind yet on the conclusion.
Utterly flawed but undeniably entertaining.
However, with a hammy performance from Salma Hayek and a wooden turn from Taylor Kitsch, 'Savages' is a bloated, vanity project with style being more of a focus than substance.
The always reliable Aaron Johnson shines among the cast, showing that this ever-reliable actor can flourish in any role.
What saves this film is the stunning setting, allowing the director to create some incredible shots and beautiful backdrops. Dialogue is also top notch, with scenes snapping along in a 'Tarantino' fashion.
In short, what could've been great only manages to be good