Jul. 11, 2012 - Issue #873: The Big Cover-Up
Directed by Oliver Stone
There are scintillating small surprises to be championed and then there are scuzzy little wastes of celluloid to be savaged. Helpfully, Oliver Stone's latest is even called Savages. But that can't prepare you for just how brutally empty this film is. Stone's been in bad form before—World Trade Center was a jingoistic exercise of viewer patience—but he's hit rock-bottom now.
Beginning with the tedious tripe of Ophelia's (Blake Lively) voiceover narration ("I have orgasms, he has wargasms") and ending with a pointless narrative flourish, what's in the middle is the even duller plot. Californians Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) run a mega-million business in THC-rich pot, refuse to work with Mexican traffickers, and end up in a war with them that involves the double-dealings of a DEA agent (John Travolta, offering the only watchable scenes).
Headless corpses, blown-out craniums, and tortured, immolated bodies keep piling up, but there's no semblance of trauma or stirred emotions (beyond cold rage or toking token concern) for anyone. The computer- and phone-recorded violence-porn culminates in a replayed rape that's meant as a sickening revelation, but comes off as leering voyeurism and is then forgotten. Vacant style (including way too many close-ups) is the rule. The "savages" title reference is used three times: once to slur those dastardly Mexicans, once to slur those spoiled gringos, and once to express some notion of a return-to-nature that only a person blissed out on 33-percent-THC bud would find profound.
Ben and Chon—named thus just to set up the inevitable "Cheech and Chong" line—and Ophelia, their lover, can grow pot, but not personalities. Their happy ménage-a-trois is such a void it becomes the Bermuda Triangle of characterization. Salma Hayek's wasted as a vixenish drug boss; even Benicio del Toro can't make his grinning psycho-thug memorable. The black-and-white shots that Stone tosses in can't relieve the flashy, SoCal bling-bling-video-meets-generic-action-movie feel of all the druggie dealings, which only remind us how complex, character-rich and gripping TV's Breaking Bad is. And then comes the double ending: the first reflects just how violence-celebrating and death-enchanted this entire waste of 130 minutes is while the second is a happy-dopey cop-out.
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