“The Savages” is yet another in a long string of disappointments for filmmaker Oliver Stone. Walking out of the film, I had trouble even recalling what he’d been up to this past decade and what I could recall wasn’t pretty: the politically confused George Bush bio “W.,” Nic Cage 9/11 drama “World Trade Center,” belated sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and his epically awful “Alexander.” Looking at that sampling of work gives the impression that Stone desperately wants his career back but despite trying all the angles to get back in Hollywood’s good graces, just can’t seem to find a hit. Even the subjects that seem rife for exploration by the politically minded filmmaker have been strangely toothless and non-confrontational.
“The Savages” - in which a trio of Laguna Beach stoners turned weed dealers run into trouble with a Mexican cartel - is his latest attempt to find his way back onto the A-list but unfortunately, probably won’t due to a fairly terrible script (co-written by Stone, author Don Winslow and Shane Salerno). Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is the muscle, haunted by his tours in Afganistan, Ben (Aaron Johnson) is the brains, able to engineer product with the highest THC levels possible and O (Blake Lively) is the girl, who instead of being torn between the two boys, shares them openly instead. With better dialogue (and perhaps more compelling performers) there might have been more to explore to this complicated threesome other than these surface descriptions but the film doesn’t grant us those details.
Instead the opening 45 minutes mainly features the trio getting stoned and refusing a (very good!) deal from a drug cartel for an 80/20 split of profits. The boys, of course, refuse the offer and O is kidnapped by the cartel, who we see in the film’s opening cutting the heads off their hostages. In an interesting twist of gender, the head of the cartel is a woman, played by Salma Hayek, in one of her best roles in years. Along with Benicio Del Toro’s mad dog enforcer, these two are the main reasons the movie is intermittently entertaining. But between O’s eye-rolling narration, the perfunctory dialogue and leaps of logic, it’s not quite the dangerously fun, 90s throwback it might have been. A rug pull towards the end is an especially misguided move and further proof that Stone may be further from his heyday than he realizes.