Film Reviews

Cartel leader Elena (Salma Hayek) kidnaps damsel-in-distress O (Blake Lively)

Breaking Sad

Savages’ Laguna Beachers take on the Mexican cartel

The West has always been a savage land, or so we like to fantasize, and maybe this (mis?)conception is fueled by Hollywood’s constant masculine, insecure need to be the center of attention. What better way to get there than with an act of enviable lawlessnessness? Certainly, director Oliver Stone knows the drill.

Turning westward after Wall Street, Stone brings us Savages, starring a bunch of television actors that come off as if they’re pretending to be in a grown-up movie with John Travolta (who plays a corrupt DEA agent).

It’s as though Serena Van Der Woodsen of Gossip Girl and Tim Riggins of Friday Night Lights bought a GoPro cam and took it on a bad vacation. Caveat: Blake Lively is convincingly vague and empty as Ophelia, or “O,” the carefree, stoic blonde who narrates the movie with disconnected, bland emotional affect. And Taylor Kitsch, although I’m afraid I’ll always think of him as Tim, at least tries to separate himself from that good-hearted, long-haired Texan boy persona.

Kitsch plays Chon, a war vet who grows the best weed in California and, according to O, acts like he’s trying to screw and kill Afghanistan out of his system. Chon’s business partner and best friend–and O’s other lover–is Ben, played by Aaron Johnson. They enjoy each other’s company and live large, until Mexico–in the form of Benicio del Toro as a loose cannon with sunken eyes and a soul patch–comes knocking on their door with loaded pistoles and an invitation to join forces.

What follows is a gruesome, head-rolling, bad guy vs. badder guy, race to the top of the pile of dead bodies. So goes the typical Oliver Stone movie: unaware of its superficiality, lost in the message, but fun to watch. Stone’s are like meatier Michael Bay films, lying in oversaturated and sun-drenched pools of wacky violence, but presented in a serious way and with a larger message. This one dares to question the ongoing Mexican drug war and its dependence on America’s drug trafficking, and asks which of the two is really the savage.

Weak as the kids’ acting feels in the beginning, it’s even more so once Travolta, del Toro, Salma Hayek (in sassy Latina glory) and Emile Hirsch show face. Lively is good at being t What Lively, Kitsch and friends lack in acting ability, weight, experience, or depth might have seemed a natural foundation for the characters they have to play: naive semi-professionals involved in a large-funded project and out of their depth. But if that’s what Stone was aiming for all along, he miscalculated.