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“Savages”: Oliver Stone’s Cold Killers

July 9, 2012

There was a time when the release of a new Oliver Stone movie was a newsworthy national event. Time Magazine put Platoon on the cover in 1987 with the line: “Viet Nam As It Really Was.” Wall Street‘s Gordon Gekko wrote the ’80s epitaph: “Greed is good.” JFK and Nixon put two of the century’s most controversial presidencies in stark new lights. Sure, Stone’s points of view were sometimes skewed, but at least he was taking stands on matters of import.

Still, there’s always been another side to Stone: the nihilist who wallows in meaningless sex and violence in shockers like The Hand, Natural Born Killers and U Turn (not to mention his script for Brian De Palma’s Scarface). His latest film, Savages, represents a U Turn to grubby, blood-soaked exploitation after his most recent attempts at relevance—the Bush biopic W., the 9/11 opus World Trade Center and the worthless sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, failed to stimulate a national conversation. And it may be his most brutally awful movie yet.

Blake Lively blankly narrates the film as O, a California dreamgirl who’s involved in a menage a trois with a pair of bromantically linked drug kingpins: Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a hair-trigger Iraq/Afghanistan vet, and Ben (Aaron Johnson), a dreadlocked idealist who uses his ill-gotten profits for good causes. When a Mexican cartel led by the wicked Elena (Salma Hayek) tries to horn in on their turf, bullets start flying and bodies start falling. The trouble is, there’s no one here to care about—not dimwitted drug thug Lado (Benicio Del Toro) or corrupt DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta), as amusing as they are, and certainly not any of the three leads, who seem to have stumbled off a CW teen soap written and directed by Cheech and Chong: Ganja Girl.

Stone, who cowrote the movie with Shane Salerno and Don Winslow (based on his novel), references more artistically significant films like Sunset Boulevard and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the screenplay, but Savages is an ugly, irrelevant little sleazefest. Uma Thurman should be glad that her scenes as Lively’s much-married mom were slashed from the film, even if it did prevent moviegoers from enjoying a Pulp Fiction reunion with Travolta (then again, they both appeared in the Get Shorty sequel Be Cool, and the result wasn’t so hot).

If it had been a 90-minute B-movie playing on the lower half of drive-in double bills in the ’70s, Savages might have been a cheap-and-dirty guilty pleasure. But it runs a bloated 130 minutes and was released by a major studio over a summer holiday weekend. Savages may have come out on July 6, but Stone couldn’t be further from his Born on the Fourth of July days.

What’s your favorite Oliver Stone flick? Any devotees of Salvador, Talk Radio or The Doors out there? Post a comment!

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