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Savages (AF)


Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch, Joel David Moore, Demian Bichir, Sandra Echeverria, Diego Catano, Jonathan Carr

Director: Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone’s lurid, often lunatic and mostly embarrassingly acted thriller opens on California’s Laguna Beach with Blake Lively’s predictive (or is it?) statement: “Just ’cause I’m telling you this story doesn’t mean that I’m alive at the end of it. It’s that kind of a story where things got so out of control.”

Unfortunately, Stone’s over-colourful direction, the performances and the screenplay (by Shane Salerno, Stone and Don Winslow on whose best-selling novel the film is based) are also out of control for much of the time, making the garish, drug-driven thriller rather more noisy and nasty than holding or entertaining.

‘John Carter’ and ‘Battleship’ survivor Taylor Kitsch and deeply dull ‘Anna Karenina’ leading (or should that be ‘leaden’ man?) man Aaron Taylor-Johnson (simply billed here as Aaron Johnson) play a couple of laid back, near to the point of narcolepsy as far as their bland performances go, guys who sexually share Lively (‘For me, they are one big man” she enthuses) as a happy hormonal bonus to their enviable, well-heeled life style, paid for by growing and selling the finest marijuana in the business.

Unfortunately for them, Kitsch and Johnson’s success soon arouses the interest of merciless Salma Hayek (over the top and rather too often resembling a transvestite Marlene Dietrich impersonator), her vicious enforcer Benicio Del Toro (luckily rarely resembling himself thanks to overdone makeup) who want to form a partnership. Kitsch and Johnson disagree with her. Bad move. Hayek has Lively abducted and tortured as a catalyst to persuade the druggie duo to go through with the merger and all hell breaks loose…

Overall, the acting is hammy enough to have the film banned in Israel, with porky-looking John Travolta, playing a crooked DEA agent who joins Kitsch and Johnson in their life-and-death battle, taking the laurels for a characterisation rich in corn and over-acting that really belongs in a basic comic book.

The considerable bloody violence with which Stone infests his film is as far from comic-book ferocity as you can get, with seat-squirming torture sequences as their apogee. There were times (rather too many of them) when I felt Savages would be the perfect date movie for both sadists and masochists. Maybe Stone’s followers should think of Seizure rather than Platoon (apart from the vigorous climactic shootout which would have been really useful to the American forces fighting in Vietnam).

The “have-your-cake-and-eat-it” ending could be considered to have largely made nonsense of all that precedes it – but for my money (and I wouldn’t want to pay to see Savages) Stone had already made nonsense of too much of the film, delivering a movie destined to make auteur-admirers double over in discomfort attempting to hail it as a great work.

Alan Frank

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour by DeLuxe.
129 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 3, Swearing 3.

Review date: 23 Sep 2012