The hippy dream is alive and well in Oliver Stone’s initially entertaining, ultimately exhausting, typically irreverent and disappointingly irrelevant drug-war drama. Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson are Chon and Ben, Californian entrepreneurs whose special brand of weed has made them counterculture icons. Chon is a former soldier, Ben is a cowardly trustafarian, and they’re both – happily – in love with O (Blake Lively), a blonde mother-sister-surfer-whore type who gives both these overgrown adolescents all the love, sex and attention they could possibly need. That’s until she’s snatched by sadistic Mexican drug lieutenant Lado (Benicio Del Toro) on the orders of temperamental kingpin Elena (Salma Hayek).
This is the scrappy, happy Stone of ‘U-Turn’ rather than the arch-satirist of ‘W’ or the dogmatic documentarian of ‘South of the Border’. ‘Savages’ can be a lot of fun, particularly when Del Toro and Hayek are allowed to chew the scenery – you’ll not find Mexican villains this sleazy and grotesque outside of soap opera. Stone’s political instincts aren’t entirely suppressed – a deconstruction of the drug war arrives in the form of corrupt DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta), while a troubling torture scene riffs on black-ops rendition.
But too much of the film feels tired. Kitsch and Johnson are game, but their buddy-buddy shtick involves zero chemistry, and neither character is remotely likeable. Lively is a bore: she delivers a series of cod-poetic voiceovers like a bored Valley girl reading a Hallmark card. Stone revs his engines and chucks in some off-kilter angles, a few film-stock shifts and a handful of noisy, bloody shootouts, but it all smacks of trying too hard to mask the absence of strong material. The result is not nearly savage enough.