Pretend, if you like, that the creative mode you wish Oliver Stone would return to, after all these years, is the one he occupied for the headache-inducing Natural Born Killers (1994)—an instantly dated anomaly. If you can persuade yourself of this bad idea, then the scuzz-violent, pop-opera–drenched Savages is for you. Narrated in Blake Lively’s slurriest, most wayward-babe growl, the movie feels cool in a strained way, one that would ignore 20-plus years of gun-toting, hyperverbal Tarantino cinema. Three tanned Laguna Beach pot dealers are our heroes: ex-military Chon (Taylor Kitsch), softhearted Ben (Aaron Johnson) and the woman they seem to share—unrealistically—as a bed partner, “O” (Lively).
Soon enough—and it’s amazing how predictable the faux-provocative script (based on Don Winslow’s novel) is—here come the scary Mexicans, sending our trio spooky e-mails, snatching up their beloved blond and generally calling for tough tactics. Stone and his actors make this pulp watchable enough, but he’s a director who’s a lot more fun when grafting his histrionic nerve onto weightier subjects: presidents, wars, James Woods’s ego. This time, Stone is just sloshing around in the shallow end. When John Travolta and Benicio Del Toro show up for extended, cartoonish dialogues, you’ll wonder what year it is, and let out a sigh of relief that the moment is long gone.
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