“Savages” begins with a plausible premise: a couple of high school buddies go their separate ways for a while after graduating—one (Ben) a botanist, the other (Chon) a soldier. But they later get back together because the soldier returns from Afghanistan with the best cannabis seed ever, and the botanist knows exactly how to grow it. Thus they go into business together, in California, and do very well with it. OK, so far it’s believable.
But somehow they are both in a continuing relationship with O (Blake Lively, who looks surprisingly unglamorous throughout), which seems very unlikely, even for the free-spirited. Love triangles like that don’t usually endure. (Can you name even one?)
What isn’t surprising is that the success of the marijuana business quickly gets noticed by 1) the Law, and 2) other drug dealers. As for 1), we have Dennis, a DEA agent on the take (John Travolta, who’s suitably repugnant), and as for 2), we have….Selma Hayek as a drug lord? Really, all she does is act mean and cold-hearted, which may suit the role, but doesn’t exactly endear her to the audience.
In fact, this movie suffers from a distinct lack of anyone to root for. All the characters seem fatally flawed: O, a druggie herself? Chon, whose answer to the drug cartel’s violence is to meet it with greater violence? Ben, the gentle soul who has to learn to toughen up and harden his conscience if he’s going to fight the bad guys? How, then, can we tell the difference between him and them?
Yes, Benicio del Toro, as Lado, the sadistic henchman, is chillingly believable as a remorseless enforcer, but then, he’s played that role before, hasn’t he? And do we really want to see him torture people?
But the worst part about “Savages” is that Director Oliver Stone couldn’t decide how to end it. So he gives us one kind of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” scenario, then takes it back! And then superimposes (perhaps because of pre-release audience ratings?) a second ending, which completely eradicates any kind of suspension of disbelief we viewers may have developed up to that point.
Besides, do we really want any of these thugs and addicts and profligates and murderers to live happily ever after, anyway? Director Stone seems to think so. But here’s to doubting his operating premise.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas