Oliver Stone gave audiences one of the most infamous drug lords to grace the screen with the contemporary remake of “Scarface” in 1983. Thirty years later, Stone has returned to the drug arena but in a far less remarkable fashion with “Savages.” In fact, “Savages” is not only plagued by a lousy script and ghastly performances, it is one of the dullest action films to open this year.
Based on the 2010 novel by Don Winslow, the story follows Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), two California pot growers who wage war with a Mexican drug cartel following the kidnapping of their girlfriend “O” (Blake Lively in a Razzie-worthy performance). Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro play drug cartel kingpins and John Travolta gives a phoned-in, embarrassing cameo as a corrupt DEA agent.
Not since “Battleship” has such cringe-worthy dialogue been uttered on the big screen. In an early scene, Ben tells Chon how he would like to quit the growing business and go “change the world” volunteering in third-world countries. “You don’t change the world…it changes you,” Chon responds. Such elementary phrases account for the majority of what is said in the film and are only further marred by subpar performances. And if there were a drinking game for every time characters find a way to use the word “savages” in everyday conversation, the entire audience would leave plastered.
“Savages” is done no favors with the lifeless Lively as its lead. Although she demonstrated a glimmer of promise as a drug-addled mother in “The Town,” all of that has been obliterated here. Her nasally, sluggish drawl is like nails on a chalkboard and her expressions are hollow even at her character’s most distressing moments. She may be one of the more beautiful young actresses in Hollywood, but she is often unpleasant to look at here where she is afflicted with tacky flower tattoos and unnaturally orange skin. No amount of makeup can hide the fact that Lively is a horrendous actress that should stick with television like “Gossip Girl” from now on.
The cast’s two strongest links are Hayek and Del Toro, who are mildly amusing and devious as the Mexican cartel’s leaders. The trouble is, neither seem perverse or frightening enough to be taken seriously. Particularly Hayek, whose character is bogged down by a trivial plotline involving an emotionally aloof daughter. The movie’s biggest waste of talent is Emilie Hirsch in a thankless role as a computer hacker. What happened to making art films like “Into the Wild” or “Milk” a few short years ago?
The movie is surprisingly skimpy on action despite its lengthy running time. A few cars blow up, some people are shot, but the majority of scenes consist of characters sitting around tables threatening to do many things they rarely act upon.
Stone makes fine use of lighting and the vibrant colors of the California coast are suitably amplified to create some exquisite shots. Unfortunately, there is an obnoxious tendency to fade to black and white for a few seconds with absolutely no rhyme or reason. It is not even to represent an event in the past or a character dying, but is merely a case of over-stylization.
While those not seeking a web-slinging superhero or frivolous pop star on-screen this weekend may check out “Savages,” they are practically guaranteed to be disappointed. The film is easily forgettable and tailor-made for its future place in a gas station Redbox machine or Walmart bargain box.
If you truly want a clever, rousing and suspenseful action film this holiday weekend, “Headhunters” at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale is your best pick. “Savages,” on the other hand, is merely 2 hours, 10 minutes and $9.50 that you will never get back.