Susan Granger's review of Savages (Universal Pictures)
Updated 6:33 pm, Friday, July 13, 2012
Every generation has its new invasion of savages -- so now it's Mexico's drug cartels. That's what Southern California's Laguna Beach weed barons/best buddies Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) discover when they're presented with a merchandising offer they can't refuse from mega-powerful, Tijuana-based Elena Sanchez (Salma Hayek) and her ruthless enforcer Lado (Benicio del Toro), backed by corrupt D.E.A. agent Dennis (John Travolta).
Disparate in personalities but bizarrely devoted to one another since high school, Ben is a sensitive, UC Berkeley-educated botanist who takes time off to dig water wells in Burma and donate laptops to African children, while Chon is a cynical, battle-scarred Navy SEAL/Iraq War veteran who brought back their original buds from Afghanistan. Most implausibly, they graciously share a vacuous, shopaholic girl-friend, Ophelia (Blake Lively), called O, who gets kidnapped yet lives to narrate this cannabis-fueled reminiscence, although her survival often is in question.
O calls one "a Buddhist," the other "a Baddist," describing sex with volatile Chon as "I have orgasms; he has war-gasms."
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Channeling Quentin Tarantino's testosterone-fueled, ironic style, filmmaker Oliver Stone ("Natural Born Killers," "JFK," "Any Given Sunday") optioned Don Winslow's pulpy drug war novel before it was published in 2010 and began work on the screenplay adaption, which wallows in excessively grisly gore, particularly when double-crossing Ben and Chon frame Elena's political pal Alex (Demian Bichir) to get tortured as an informant and then abduct Elena's estranged daughter Magda (Sandra Echeverria) to use as their pawn in a hostage-exchange plan.
Taylor Kitsch ("Battleship," "John Carter") and Aaron Johnson ("Kick-Ass") are two of Hollywood's blandest leading boys, while bland Blake Lively ("The Town") whines winsomely. Reportedly, Jennifer Lawrence originally was cast as O but wisely chose "The Hunger Games" instead and, although Uma Thurman played O's mother, her scenes were discarded. According to production notes, all the lushly photographed pot plants are artificial, although production designers researched medical marijuana growers for authenticity.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Savages" is a silly, sordid, sadistic 6, filled with gratuitously excessive grisly, graphic violence.