Oliver Stone is back in form with “Savages,” which will be good news only to those who liked Stone’s form to begin with. Based on the acclaimed 2010 novel by Don Winslow, it’s about a pair of extremely successful southern California pot growers, the blonde bimbo they share, and the vicious Mexican cartel that wants into the business. I suppose you could call it Stone’s version of “Jules and Jim,” plus beheadings, torchings, bombings and strafings.
Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is an ex-Navy SEAL and his partner in crime is Ben (Aaron Johnson), who is as hang-loose as Chon is hot-wired. Together they’ve built up a vast business derived from Afghanistan cannabis seeds that are exponentially more potent than the competition’s. Ophelia (Blake Lively), or O, as she likes to be called, is their mutual love object. She likes being in the middle of the men. “For me,” she says “they are one big man.” O, fittingly, is kidnapped by the cartel while shopping in the mall.
It's ironic that Stone, whose scripts for Alan Parker's "Midnight Express" and Brian De Palma's "Scarface" were a big influence on Quentin Tarantino, should have made a movie that seems like a Tarantino spin-off.
The torture quotient is high and the human consequences cartoonish. “Savages” does keep the eye engaged, if not the mind. Salma Hayek, in a Cleopatra wig, has an over-the-top turn as the cartel’s leader, and Benicio Del Toro, looking more toothsome than usual, plays her henchman, a man so ruthless he’s, well, amusing. (Truly bad guys are always more fun than bad guys.) John Travolta has a pungent cameo as a corrupt DEA agent.
“Savages” isn’t about anything except flashily directed mayhem. In this nest of vipers, it’s the slitheriest varieties that survive – at least for a time. Grade: B- (Rated R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout.)