The “okay, that happened” movie is a rare creature not often seen in the wild. Usually one has to wait until the it has aged and been domesticated for private viewing in order to better appreciate the unique anatomy of such a creature. For in the wild, observance of such oddities leads to a reproductive boom that can lead to infestations that last months. The only way to rid an infested area is to abandon wherever they may be nesting. Once they have been completely starved for attention, they are forced to abandon their nests and are eventually captured for further private entertainment. What this weird metaphor is trying to say is that this kind of movie doesn’t happen very often, but when it does its popularity can determine whether or not more films like it are released in quicker succession.
In this case we have a specimen called “Savages,” scientific name, Oliver Stonus Tryingtomuchus. There’s no part of this movie that’s bad on its own, and every plot point is interesting in concept. But everything’s strung together in such a rickety way that nothing really holds for longer than a moment after one scene ends and another begins. It feels like this could be a dozen different movies at a dozen different points in the story, all following each other in a sequence that could be summed up as “things that happened.” It doesn’t make a movie bad, it makes it inconsolably frustrating because all the elements should work.
“Savages” is the story of two men, Chon and Ben (played by Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson respectively), whose mutual girlfriend “O” (played by Blake Lively) is kidnapped by the cartel. They’re moving up north and taking over the drug trade, and they happen to be a roadblock. But they can’t just be killed because their drugs in this particular trade are different strands of marijuana, scientifically boosted to have a ridiculous amount of THC in them.
See, these dealers are savants, college educated and military trained men who came together by total happenstance who happen to have the perfect connections and opportunities necessary to cultivate the perfect strand of pot. And when they have a reason to attack the cartel they go in hard. Once. Then… the story meanders. A lot. Pacing is the biggest problem this movie has. It goes along like it’s all building up to a rampage and the total dismantling and destruction of the cartel by two men on a mission. But then it doesn’t. This movie also wants to be a character drama about all the people whose lives are affected by the violence and coercion inherent in the drug trade. But there are so many characters that it takes too much time to go through them all and develop character enough for all of them. The only one that seems to be built on any serious drama is Benicio Del Toro’s Lado, a particularly savage (get it?) hit man whose semblance of a normal life is thrown into a wall when his life starts to get more and more vicious. And his is the only character worth watching this movie for anyway.
For every side of this story, there could be a full movie on its own. Chon and Ben getting started, cultivating and dominating a market in Laguna Beach could be its own story, but it’s glossed over in five minutes. Salma Hayek’s Elena and her story as a widower who’s forced to take over a family business that happens to just be a cartel and how that strains her relationship with her family could be its own movie. Lado’s story could be its own movie. O’s story as someone who gets in over their head hanging out with the wrong kind of people (albeit people she cares about) could be its own movie. Also John Travolta is in this. He does… something.
It’s unfortunate that this movie should get a review so scathing when so much of it in the sense of a formula, isn’t all that bad. But this is trying to use leftover pieces from five different puzzles to try and make a new image. Something new may start to form, but it’s barely visible beyond the spaces between the jammed together pieces. Take your Saturday night and use it to do something more productive. Read a book. Hang out with friends. Learn to ballroom dance. Head over to Starbucks and start writing that novel you always said you would. This isn’t something worth a Saturday night’s time.
Savages is also available on Amazon if you’re looking to own the film along with the special features.