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Friday, July 6, 2012

Savages: Cops and Robbers and Threesomes

Posted by on Fri, Jul 6, 2012 at 4:19 PM

Blake Lively, with Cold Steel and Warm Wood, respectively.
  • Blake Lively, with Cold Steel and Warm Wood, respectively.

To put it kindly, Blake Lively is not the ideal crime film narrator. Her detached line reading doesn't really drag you into Savages; it's more like a light breeze to accompany the beautifully shot idyllic beaches of southern California. It doesn't help, either, that Lively has to read rehashed pulpy drivel about her romantic relationship with a pair of men. As a rich girl named O, Lively informs us of her lovers' different approaches: "Chon is cold metal. Ben's warm wood." Chon (Taylor Kitsch, in his third cinematic strike of the year after Battleship and the underrated John Carter) is a veteran who has recently left the military, though the military hasn't left him: O confides that when she has sex with Chon, "I have orgasms. He has wargasms." Ben (Aaron Johnson, doing a third-rate Steve Jobs impersonation) is a genius who has created a few perfect strains of marijuana. Together, the two men (with O around as fuckbuddy and ornamentation) built a small-but-excessively profitable drug-running business.

Cue the stereotypically evil Mexicans. Salma Hayek is a drug lord trying to get a foothold in the United States, and Benicio Del Toro is her muscle, a hitman ingeniously disguised as a landscaper. Del Toro is all brutal menace, casually shooting holes in people. It's a performance that alternates between brilliant physicality (a sex swing is hanging in the background of his hotel room as he takes a meeting) and hilarious overacting (he literally twirls his moustache at one point). Lest you forget that these are some evil Mexicans, they kidnap O and hold her hostage when the boys refuse to sell their business and growing know-how to the cartel.

Savages is a bloody, ignorant escapade of a thing, an ill-tempered, dark crime thriller starring a bunch of vapid pretty things who bump into one another until somebody falls down. Oliver Stone seems stuck in his 1990s mode of filmmaking, with different film stocks, filters, and visual effects slathered all over the movie, with no apparent reason behind his choices. Speaking of stuck in the 90s: Was John Travolta ever a good actor? He has a small-but-significant part in Savages, and he seems lately to be a more earnest, less talented version of his old Face/Off acting partner Nicolas Cage. Travolta is a ham who seems to be self-aware, but he doesn't have Cage's imagination or wit, so his acting consists of the same bad decision over and over again.

It's all a tolerable sort of awful movie for a while. The white guys kick the shit out of the evil Mexicans. Stone unabashedly wants you to cheer on his muscular ciphers because they're supposedly the good guys in this little penny dreadful. But the ending features a storytelling decision so self-indulgent and cliched that you can't help but get mad at the waste of your time. All we expect out of our sleazy crime thrillers is a little dirty twist now and again. Savages doesn't bother to twist; it just dumbly clocks you in the side of a head with a two-by-four and hopes that Lively whispering sweet nothings in your ear makes up for the brutality of the experience. It doesn't.

 

Comments (25) RSS

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OrdinaryMadness.org 1
Darn. I was really hoping this was going to be a good movie, but I knew it would be crap. Thanks for saving me 15 bucks.
Posted by OrdinaryMadness.org http://www.ordinarymadness.org on July 6, 2012 at 4:24 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 2
Oliver Stone is like a self righteous Steven Spielberg. Both directors abhor subtlety and would rather hit you in the face over and over and over. I haven't bothered to see any movie made by either man since 1994, and although I've been led to believe that I'm missing out on some of Spielberg's works, I've heard nothing about Stone's films to make me regret skipping them.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 6, 2012 at 4:35 PM · Report this
3
We disagree again Paul this looks good, and I'm sure I'll think so leaving the theater.

@ 1 As much as I think Paul is a good writer, this is just an opinion. If you think it looks good go see it.
Posted by Seattle14 on July 6, 2012 at 4:36 PM · Report this
Last of the Time Lords 4
So Paul...are you saying every movie this summer is nothing but shit on film?
Posted by Last of the Time Lords on July 6, 2012 at 4:42 PM · Report this
5
@2 Steven Speilberg is a self-righteous Steven Spielberg. The tacked on flag-waving at the end of Saving Private Ryan?
Posted by Tyler Pierce on July 6, 2012 at 4:47 PM · Report this
lizlemon 6
Wait wait wait. "...he doesn't have Cage's imagination or wit" ??
Since when does Nicolas Cage have either of those things??
Posted by lizlemon on July 6, 2012 at 5:05 PM · Report this
7
Paul yet again turds on a movie. Roger Ebert said it was good, and I usually trust him more than Paul.

@6: see: Bad Lieutenant: Port of call New Orleans, Adaptation, Raising Arizona, Matchstick Men, Leaving Las Vegas and the tri-fecta of the best action movies of the mid to late 90's (Face/Off, The Rock and Con Air)
Posted by rodlotta on July 6, 2012 at 5:26 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 8
@ 5, never saw "Saving Private Ryan." The last Spielberg film I saw was "Schindler's List." But I can imagine that flag-waving pretty easily, and it still doesn't measure up to Stone. Spielberg knows he's an entertainer and he knows exactly how to play the emotions of the general filmgoing public. Stone believes he's serving a higher purpose, so his movies feel like a lecture from an angry professor. I have a harder time with that, personally, even if his politics are a lot more in line with mine.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 6, 2012 at 6:29 PM · Report this
Zebes 9
"Really really pretty people shoot at eachother over drugs and money against generic California backdrops, also sometimes they have sex"
Posted by Zebes http://www.badrap.org/rescue/index.html on July 6, 2012 at 7:21 PM · Report this
Knat 10
Excuse me... "wargasms?" Abort! Abort! Abort! Abortabortabort!
Posted by Knat on July 6, 2012 at 8:25 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 11
When will someone show the good side of Mexican drug cartels? So many unexamined prejudices in assuming they're always evil.

Sometimes you have to look past the over-sensationalized pickup truck full of human heads and see the human beings behind it all. The human beings chopping off all those heads have a story to tell too. Oliver Stone is so racist.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn http://youtu.be/zu-akdyxpUc on July 6, 2012 at 9:45 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 12
This sounds like the good pulpy Olly Stone. The Stone who directed NBK and U-Turn instead of the Olly of JFK and Alexander. The one where he knows he's turning in pulp and just runs with it. It's either going to be unmitigated shit or amazing ultra pulp. Or both.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on July 6, 2012 at 11:14 PM · Report this
Bauhaus I 13
I just hate it when a director blows his wad early in his career and we have to watch the long, slow decline.
Posted by Bauhaus I on July 6, 2012 at 11:35 PM · Report this
yelahneb 14
@10 Yeah. I had to stop reading after the "wargasms" quote.
Posted by yelahneb http://www.strangebutharmless.com on July 7, 2012 at 12:38 AM · Report this
15
The characters and continuity of the film were horrendous. By the end, Salma Hayek was laughable as a super villian. The plot was full of holes, sequences were thrown in for no reason other than to blow things up. This was an interesting premise, poorly executed by a horrible team with an awful script. Amateur.
Posted by TnPppp on July 7, 2012 at 5:52 AM · Report this
16
@11 mexican cartels are a tragic history created by

1. america's insatiable demand for drugs,
2. our hypocrisy
3. our endless flow of arms to anyone, our love of guns,
4. poverty in mexico something in which america is far from blameless, and
5. the fact that mexicans are exactly like you or me, mr. racist, and if our nation had the same conditions then the exact same percentage of folks would turn crazy violent being caught up in a system of outlawed superprofit gang wars. do you honestly think your anglo dna makes you superior?

for human and multisided treatments of the mexican cartels, in which people are people, good and bad, with different aspects, see:
1. many corridos
2. La Reina del Sur, available via telenovelas or in Spanish -- it's a worldwide best seller, jack -- and in translation for the gringos who sadly don't even bother to learn spanish despite the fact there's like 40 million americans who speak it and our neighbor to the south is ahem, the largest spanish speaking country in the world.

to see what I mean, I'd also refer you to the legion american movies about the mob, gangsters, goodfellas, etc. we can see american gangsters as humans, just not mexicans, right? what a load of racist tripe when at bottom it's our market that creates the mexican drug cartels and sustains them. but you have to hate the folks you hurt right, otherwise your little conscience might feel bad, and you're not man enough to take it.
Posted by degollamos al racismo on July 7, 2012 at 9:00 AM · Report this
17
Pulpy to the point that you'd think it was Tarantino, not Stone. But Tarantino would have made it more entertaining.
Posted by catballou on July 7, 2012 at 9:17 AM · Report this
OrdinaryMadness.org 18
@3 I'll still see it, just not in the theater
Posted by OrdinaryMadness.org http://www.ordinarymadness.org on July 7, 2012 at 9:56 AM · Report this
Paul Constant 19
I love that all the people who disagree with me about the quality of Savages haven't seen the goddamned movie. (I'm looking, especially, at you, @Seattle14.) You had better go watch this movie and then come back and tell me if this movie—especially the godforsaken ending—was great.

@rodlotta: Whether you agree with Ebert more than me or not, I totally agree with you on Cage. (Incidentally, I think Ebert has been going easy on movies this summer for some reason; Amazing Spider-Man is a terrible movie, and his review of Savages has to be some kind of a pass.)

@4: This happens every summer; someone accuses me of hating everything. Do you want a scorecard? I loved the holy fuck out of The Avengers and Moonrise Kingdom. I didn't review Magic Mike, but I saw it, and I thought that was great fun, too. Same with Safety Not Guaranteed, and Your Sister's Sister, though I know those are not traditional summer films. I gave Prometheus a fair-to-middlin' review, calling it pretty to look at and ambitious, but admitting that it falls apart in the middle and crashes and burns in the end. But it's still worth a watch. I'm going to see Brave this weekend. I'm dying to see Dark Knight Rises.

Here's the thing: I'm not going to give a movie a pass if it's total shit. Hollywood has enough cheerleaders. I happen to think that two of the best summer movies of this year came out in the winter: John Carter and The Hunger Games.
Posted by Paul Constant http://https://twitter.com/paulconstant on July 7, 2012 at 10:20 AM · Report this
Catherwood 20
I haven't seen it either, Paul - but if it's a suck movie, that's a goddam shame, because the author of the novel on which it seems more-or-less based, Don Winslow, is a terrific writer. I'd recommend any of his books for anyone who likes crime fiction.

But lord, you make it sound like they totally ruined it. I think I'll wait for it to show up at the Crest.
Posted by Catherwood on July 7, 2012 at 9:20 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 21
@16

What?

That overwhelming image of a pickup full of heads just blots out everything. Go on. You were saying...?
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn http://youtu.be/zu-akdyxpUc on July 7, 2012 at 9:52 PM · Report this
Paul Constant 22
@Catherwood, I think part of the problem is that Stone got the tone for an adaptation of a Winslow book exactly wrong. He has this sort of arch detachment going on in some scenes that pulls you out of the plot. I'd prefer fewer fancy video tricks and more grimy in-your-face shots for the material, as well as actors (unlike Lively and the two leads) who can sell the hard-boiled language.
Posted by Paul Constant http://https://twitter.com/paulconstant on July 8, 2012 at 11:15 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 23
I saw John Carter recently, and it isn't remotely underrated. It suffers from the filmmaker's assumption that everyone knows who John Carter is and that everyone is familiar with his story. Very little in the film makes sense because there's no attempt at character or plot development or explication of what the fuck is going on. I mean, seriously. One minute the princess is going to marry McNulty and the next minute he's on a ship trying to kill someone. Oh, he's trying to kill the princess because she's running away. When the fuck did that happen? The film is riddled with those kinds of plot holes.

John Carter may be fun trash, but it's still trash.
Posted by keshmeshi on July 9, 2012 at 11:17 AM · Report this
24
Oliver Stone starts each film project by buying a copy of that day's "USA Today" and picking out the story with the biggest color picture on the front page. That way, he's certain that the bread-dead, mouth-breathing set of the American demographic is familiar with the film's subject matter.
Posted by BillyT on July 9, 2012 at 7:58 PM · Report this
25
"I have orgasms. He has wargasms."

Hahahahahahahaha. Excuse me. Aaahhahahahahahahaaaa.

Oliver Stone is a fucking hack. Always has been, continues to be, and will be forevermore. Occasionally he makes entertaining hackery (JFK, Natural Born Killers) but his shit is consistently pulpy, jumpy, overwrought and juvenile as a third rate grunge music video from 1994.
Posted by the_spiral on July 10, 2012 at 9:59 AM · Report this

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