It takes some kind of performance to bust through Oliver Stone’s hardened lacquer of film stocks and oblique angles. In Savages, Benicio Del Toro gives some kind of performance. He’s a Tijuana marijuana-syndicate enforcer so ruthless that he can terrify people even while wearing the pompadour-and-mullet hairstyle made popular by Joe Dirt. Victims spit in his face, and he licks their saliva off like a cat cleaning its whiskers, suggesting one of Siegfried & Roy’s tigers approximately six seconds before it tried to eat Roy. Del Toro’s villainy is heroically silly. Smart choice: The only way to survive a Stone picture with your dignity intact is to set it on fire.
Savages is Stone without even the affectation of ideas. It takes the saint-and-sadist duality from Platoon and tosses it into the berserker butchery of Natural Born Killers. (But in Mexico!) For more than an hour, it is a very bad movie—mostly because it stars Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively, a water-resistant bronzer in search of a spontaneous gesture. She’s the center of a leggy three-way with Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson, Laguna Beach weed kingpins who fall into escalating negotiations south of the border. These are television actors exposed and embarrassed on the big screen. But then everybody here is discredited a little: Salma Hayek vamping as a cartel boss, John Travolta inflated into a bulging, cartoon smiley face.
The second half of
the movie might also be bad, although it’s hard to say, since it’s also
breathtakingly violent. The torture and slaughter are so
extravagant—bullwhips, dangling eyeballs, ice chests—that the characters
and audience both show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. If Savages has no political compass (as a treatise on Mexican drug wars, it makes Will Ferrell’s Casa de mi Padre
look like a William Finnegan report), well, golly: It has no conscience
whatsoever. It is current events as mere sensation. The film registers
best if you lean back and watch it impassively—like Del Toro looking
over a massacre scene while sucking Frappuccino through a straw.
Everybody’s exporting some kind of junk to get you amped. R.
Critic’s Grade: C
SEE IT: Savages opens Friday at Lloyd Center 10, Regal Division Street Stadium 13 and more.