Savages (Universal Pictures, R)

savages sqI spent most of this movie hoping it would end like Hamlet does.

 

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The new Oliver Stone film Savages is one of those movies that, as you watch it, it feels like you’ve seen it a million times before. Shades of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic here, shades of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs there; lots of similarities to Ted Demme’s Blow here, emulation of the best Tarantino movies there. The thing is, every film that you’ve seen before that’s a lot like Savages is probably also a hell of a lot better than Savages.

That is to say Savages is an extremely dislikeable film. The main character is ostensibly O (Blake Lively, who turns in a particularly lethargic voiceover), short for Ophelia, who is the girlfriend of two best friends, Ben (Aaron Johnson), the nice one, and Chon (rhymes with “Shawn”) (Taylor Kitsch), the crazy one. And when I say that she’s the “girlfriend” of Ben and Chon, it’s pretty much what it sounds like, though the mechanic is handled pretty admirably here—there’s not really much drama as a result of their odd relationship mechanic. Ben and Chon are basically average California boys, except that they’re genius-level at growing the best pot in the world, and when you have the best of any kind of drug in the world there are invariably going to be a lot of people after you, no matter how otherwise nice and upstanding you may be.

Trouble comes in the form of a cartel run by a woman named Elena (Salma Hayek), who kidnaps O when Ben and Chon refuse to do business with them in a way that suits the cartel. Most of the rest of the movie deals with Ben and Chon trying to get O back. The problem is that I, for one, didn’t much care if they got O back—Ben’s annoying, Chon’s annoying, and O is really annoying. I spent most of this movie hoping it would end like Hamlet does.

There is one particularly redeeming value in the film, though, in the form of Benicio Del Toro as Elena’s henchman, Lado. A fair number of Elena’s henchmen are characters in the film (not least of which is Alex, who is played by Demián Bichir, fresh off an Oscar nomination for last year’s A Better Life), but Lado really stands out. This is probably del Toro’s best role since Traffic, and about as much of a polar opposite from his role as a good cop in that film as is imaginable. There’s some competition here for his best performance since Traffic, of course, in the form of Che and 21 Grams, but the point is that Del Toro’s a reliably great actor and he’s in top form here.

But really, Del Toro being as good as he is only serves to highlight how bad the rest of the film is. Plot developments don’t make sense, character motivations don’t make sense, good actors are used poorly (see Bichir or John Travolta, who is just awful in a small role), it’s too long, and, on the whole, the film is a complete waste of time. I can’t help but feel kind of bad for young-Sawyer-from-Lost-looking Taylor Kitsch, as it seems like this will be his third high-profile flop in 2012, after John Carter and Battleship. Maybe he should find a new agent. | Pete Timmermann

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