Movie review: Savages

By Columbus Alive
From the July 5, 2012 edition

“Savages” is basically a summer popcorn flick … through the eyes of Oliver Stone.

Drizzled with sex and riddled with violence, it’s a stylized brain-humping kinda movie. And I may be a little crazy from the heat, but I liked it.

Subtle it is not, and a lot of people will hate it. But man, what a ride! And it’s a nice excuse to sit in some air conditioning.

At a glance, you wouldn’t think Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) would have much in common. Ben is a peace-loving Buddhist, Chon a war-hardened Iraq vet. But in addition to being longtime friends, they’re business partners, and their business is growing “the best weed in the world.”

They also share — amicably, I might add — a girlfriend, a classic California girl named O (Blake Lively). When a Mexican drug cartel seeks a piece of the friends’ business, O becomes a pawn in the cartel’s game.

It’s nice when Stone can turn off — or at least turn down — his penchant for politicizing and try to just tell a story. That’s usually the case with “Savages.”

It’s uneven and runs a little long, but this is “Natural Born Killers” Stone, not “Nixon” Stone, so it doesn’t often feel like it.

The lead trio of young actors are solid if not revelatory. They’re mostly just busting out of their respective shells. Most notable is Johnson — barely recognizable from his “Kick-Ass” role. Oh, and they all have sex in the first 30 minutes, so brace for that.

Also brace for violence. Like, a lot of it. The nature of this morality tale is in the title, and there are some barbaric and sadistic acts.

In fact, the real scene-stealer is the most sadistic. Benicio Del Toro’s cartel enforcer Lado is a squirm-inducing psychopath, but he’s hypnotic in the role.

Some may well find this over-the-top filmmaking as obnoxious as, say, Michael Bay. I don’t know if my brain is just sun-baked, but I’m going along for Stone’s ride.