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Savages—movie review

by Leonard Maltin
July 6, 2012 12:18 AM
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Photo by Francois Duhamel - Courtesy of Universal Studios

It isn’t a requirement that you like a movie’s central characters, but it usually helps develop rooting interest. That’s one reason Savages comes up short: it’s difficult to care about anyone. If director and co-writer Oliver Stone had told the story more compactly, or not encouraged some of his actors to play their roles so broadly, the results might be different.

Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson play high-end drug dealers who have built a powerful business from their beautiful home base in Laguna Beach, California. Kitsch is a hard-nosed Iraqi war veteran, while Johnson is more interested in using their profits to fund good works around the world. Blake Lively loves them both, which makes her a target for a Mexican drug cartel run by cold-blooded Salma Hayek when she needs to persuade them to work with her. By kidnaping Lively she knows she’ll capture their attention. Keeping the reins on her smarmy lieutenant (Benicio Del Toro) is more of a problem, just as the surfer-dude drug czars have their hands full dealing with crooked DEA official John Travolta.

Photo by Francois Duhamel - Courtesy of Universal Studios

Most of these characters are low-lifes, and spending more than two hours in their company is not my idea of a good time. If Savages rewarded me with clever story turns, or insights into the drug culture, I might feel different. As it stands, I got bored about halfway through, and as the story became more brutal and the acting more broad, I grew actively annoyed.

I suppose there is some wish-fulfillment quotient in depicting two bright guys who manage to make it big without resorting to violence or double-dealing—and share a hot blonde between them—but the movie dispels that feeling after the first ten minutes or so. Stone gets co-screenplay credit with Shane Salerno and Don Winslow, whose novel was the basis for Savages. Perhaps the story reads better than it plays. Or perhaps something was lost in the translation. 

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  • MamaToni | July 26, 2012 7:58 PMReply

    This movie gave me my first wet dream in 10 years!!! Who cares that the Mexicans were protrayed either as bad guys (drug kingpins, ho's, rapists and murderers) or servants....and the white people were good-looking (except fat & balding Travolta)...this is what Oliver Stone does. Was it Oscar, was it fun...Hell YES! And even tho it had a ton of violence, blood and bad stuff, the cursing was very minimal (even in Spanish). I give it 4 out of 5 stars (if only for the 2 cute white boys who owned the high-end indie pot biz, how come they were not around in the 70's?).

  • joe | July 17, 2012 1:48 AMReply

    I do not agree with Leonard completely. I thought the movie was good. However, I do agree the ending was very poorly done. A dual ending was odd at best and didn't fit somehow. The sex scenes were poorly done, sort of a joke. But I liked the theme of confusion as to who the savages really were, the way the bullies were beaten up by smart guys, the back and forth.

  • Cler Atkins | July 13, 2012 7:34 AMReply

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  • julia mars | July 9, 2012 6:59 PMReply

    It seems that this movie went right over Maltin's head. There is a very strong argument to be made for this movie's being seen as an allegory of the U.S. political situation. For a review that sees Ben and Chon as representing the democratic and republican parties, as well as the military-industrial complex, and examines the role of war vets in Savages and other Oliver Stone movies, read the review, The U.S. Seen through Stone's Savages, at the hygiecracy blog

  • mike | July 9, 2012 4:18 PMReply

    I wonder when film makers willl learn the movies that make the most mney usually have the least amount of sex!
    If we want sex will hit the internet and CHECK OUT FREE PORN

  • Michael | July 8, 2012 4:42 AMReply

    I had a difficult time figuring out if Stone intended me to take this movie seriously. Or was it a farce like "Natural Born Killers"? The audience was indeed laughing at certain points--- but I'm not entirely certain that Stone intended for this to happen. I thought the plot was entirely predictable. And never have so many passionate love scenes involved so much clothing. The red herring ending did nothing but make me wish everyone-- including the audience was wiped out in a hail of gunfire. If you're going to stretch the movie beyond 2 hours, you'd best bring me Scarface, at worst. This was the second disappointing movie of the weekend. (The other-- "Ted").

  • mike schlesinger | July 9, 2012 5:08 PM

    For me, the dark humor of NBK and U-TURN (IMHO his most underrated film) finally kicked in at the third act, but by that time we've pretty much lost interest in the three leads--who are frankly pretty one-note--and the picture is kept afloat by the older actors (Travolta, Hayek, Del Toro, Bechir). I still enjoyed it, but as it's Stone's first pure popcorn movie in over a decade, I guess my hopes were a bit too high. Pun not intended.

  • Norm | July 7, 2012 3:13 AMReply

    Maybe the co-screenwriters weren't in touch with reality when they wrote the script, wouldn't be the first time it happened...

  • Jason | July 7, 2012 1:01 AMReply

    I liked the book 'Savages' a lot but the trailers and previews made me gag. I'll definitely be passing this one up.

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