Wednesday 19 September 2012

Dopeheads: "Savages"

Savages is Oliver Stone raising his hands and sharply declaring "All right, you people: I give up." After a decade of painstaking research-and-development trying and failing to get mass audiences interested in classical European history (Alexander) and recent American politics (W, South of the Border), Stone has now turned in a full-cynical, sub-Easton Ellis commercial thriller, starring notionally hot young things and featuring the following eye-catching elements: Drugs! Webcams! Threesomes! What we're watching, in effect, is stony-faced professor of history Stone doffing his specs, elbow patches and corduroys to reveal a day-glo mankini, in which he intends to perform "Sexy And I Know It" with the hope that it might some day go viral on YouTube. Savages is roughly that credible, and really about as appealing.

So: here are two dudes and a babe, smuggling marijuana from their Florida beachhouse over the border to Mexico, where lurking darkskins do bad things to cute white kids, and to pretty blonde girls in particular. In place of personalities - understandably considered above and beyond the reach of these actors - the script (by Stone, Shane Salerno and Don Winslow, from the latter's novel) plumps instead for ideas of personalities: the grizzled Iraq veteran with a hairtrigger temper (John Carter's Taylor Kitsch, effectively sealing the lid on his big-screen career), his peaceable buddy (Aaron Taylor-Johnson-Vronsky, with a tattoo on his neck), and the girl they both share (Blake Lively, for the most part here as a pair of open legs in a sarong, trading under the highly unlikely name of "Ophelia Sage").

The first act is all justification, intended to get us on the side of these milksops: ah, but they also run a sideline in medical marijuana ("15 million customers can't be wrong"), and oh, here's hippy-dippy Johnson ("he's basically a Buddhist") pumping his profits back into a care program for African kids, oh and see, they all have sex together, like they did in the communes where Stone used to sit in the corner reading his Howard Zinn. (Quoth narrator Lively of her perpetually thrusting soldier boy: "I had orgasms; he had wargasms.") Slowly, though, Savages starts to get cluttered up with good actors (Benicio del Toro, Demian Bichir, Emile Hirsch) and indifferent actors (Salma Hayek, John Travolta) chasing the sun and a little paid scenery-chewing, and what should have been a tense, against-the-clock 90-minute thriller bloats into a suspenseless 131-minute dud.

With the plot a bust, you go looking for other compensations, yet Savages sits as the least interesting Oliver Stone movie to look at for some time, Dan Mindel's camera content merely to linger on Kitsch's rippling muscles or Lively's skill at matching her skintone to her golden-blonde tresses. (Let's face it, only a drugs cartel run by Salma Hayek would put a price of 10 million U.S. dollars on Blake Lively's head at a time of recession.) Even the threesomes, heavily flagged in the trailer yet in the film pitched a solitary blouse-button above the PG-13 cut-off, contrive to be boring. It's no longer a surprise to see a major studio release being outpunched by serial television: you simply get a better class of snarky dope-slinging on Showtime's Weeds, where Stone may well have spotted Bichir. But it's a little tragic to see a guy who was - whether or not you liked him - one of America's foremost controversialists being reduced to playing with Ken and Barbie dolls along with everybody else. I raised the distress signal an hour into Savages: come back Mickey and Mallory Knox, all is forgiven.

Savages opens in cinemas nationwide from Friday.

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