Within the first minute of director Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES, we hear Blake Lively’s character say in voice over about the man we see sexually grinding her to a pulp, that she has “orgasms,” but “he has war-gasms.” And we know we’re off on a testosterone-fueled rampage where men are at war and women– even when they seem to be in charge –are on the receiving end. Which probably explains my reaction: I was held–but I felt soiled when it was over.
This is the story of “O” –short for Ophelia (Blake Lively)– a beautiful blond plaything who warns us that just because she’s telling the tale, doesn’t mean she’s alive at the end. She will remind us again later, just before it’s over, in case we’ve forgotten. Stone, who also co-wrote the screenplay based on the pulp novel by Don Winslow– isn’t known for subtlety, and SAVAGES is heavy handed, like second rate Tarantino: slower and cornier.
Ophelia has two lovers– the aforementioned war-gasmic “Chon” played by the hunky Taylor Kitsch from “Friday Night Lights” and this Spring’s box office megabomb JOHN CARTER. Chon is an ex- navy Seal. He and his friend Ben, the remarkable Aaron Johnson, a cherubic looking Brit who once played John Lennon, is a peace-loving marijuana grower; as the action grows more grizzly we see the light go out of his eyes.
According to “O,” Chon is “earth” and Ben is “spirit” -or- Ben is the “Buddhist” and Chon is the “bad-ist” (The screenwriters were perhaps in an altered state when they wrote that). In any case, together, Chon and Ben grow and sell the most heavenly weed on the planet. All is beautiful in their southern Californian paradise, when suddenly…
A Mexican Drug Cartel run by the gorgeous but cruel Elena (Salma Hayek in a ferocious black wig) makes them an offer they cannot refuse. But they refuse– and spend the rest of the film trying to get back the precious “O” after she’s been kidnapped by Elena’s henchman Lado, played by the ultra-menacing Benicio Del Toro.
All we need is John Travolta as Dennis a crooked, sandwich-chomping DEA agent; with his melon head and beady eyes, Travolta has never been more spectacularly unattractive. The ugliness and brutality build to a conclusion which is a masterpiece of ambivalence. Tragedy or comedy? No matter. Stone wants it both ways, as long as the women get the short end of the stick. Even O is robbed of the pleasure of her two lovers when the miserable Elena points out that Ben and Chon must love each other more — otherwise how could they share her?
SAVAGES is a somewhat absorbing tale, but nonetheless an empty attempt to make entertainment out of the basest impulses we have. There’s nothing to think about here, or to get that worked up about. Even these characters lacked some kind of vital juice. I want more from Oliver Stone. The word “savages” is tossed around, applied in various contexts to different characters on both sides, until it’s actually defined at the end of the movie and applied in yet another obvious way. Of course, it’s the movie makers themselves–banking as they do on the film’s scenes of torture and violence-physically, spiritually and emotionally– who best earn the moniker.