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Blu-ray Review: Savages

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I learned several things while watching Oliver Stone’s Savages.  I learned how relevant Blake Lively’s physical appearance is to her on-screen enjoyability.  I learned that I don’t recognize Aaron Taylor-Johnson, despite having seen him play the title role in Kick-Ass at least a half dozen times.  I was reminded that no matter how the rest of the movie plays out, the ending really makes or breaks the show.  I also learned that it’s hard to make a better drug-oriented dramatic action flick than Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic.  So hard, in fact, that Savages just wasn’t up to the task.

Spoiled little princess O (Lively) who lives with her two pot-dealing boyfriends Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Taylor-Johnson) who, by their powers combined, manage to form enough man to satiate her needs for shopping and fornication.  Ben provides the business acumen for their hempery, while war veteran Chon plays the emotionally detached brawn-over-brains enforcer of the equation.  O is just there to apparently spend their money and get them off.  However, being attractive and horny all the time doesn’t necessarily forge the kind of bond you expect for what follows.  Go watch Man on Fire or Taken to see a hero who is so incredibly protective and vengeful as to go medieval on some asses to protect their respective damsels in distress.  When O gets kidnapped as leverage by the big scary cartel, the guys act super distraught and start cooperating with the kidnappers, but I never completely thought she was worth it or bought their concern.

The very first scene of the movie sets up the cartel — particularly Benicio Del Toro as Lado — as “savages” for beheading a bunch of random guys in a warehouse.  With O in play, Ben and Chon try to play ball, but you expect sooner or later they’re going to resort to a similar level of savagery, right?  Eh, kind of, but the characters are so static that no real change is in the cards.  Chon is the same old unfeeling, bullet biting military hard-ass at the end as he was at the beginning, though he has some well-trained friends who come in handy in the few action scenes.  Ben never gets over his weak stomach toward violence to ever be much of a factor when the guns start blazing.  Things just kind of limp along in fairly predictable fashion until their DEA plant Dennis (John Travolta) starts playing both sides against one another.  Meanwhile, O is moved from the depths of some Mexican cesspool of a dungeon to cartel queen Elena’s (Salma Hayek) posh mansion and treated like a relative princess once again rather than a prisoner.

The movie never wants for lavish sets or costume design, that’s for sure.  The performances are pretty decent overall.  Savages tries hard and its heart is in the right place, though not up to par with Traffic.  Soderbergh’s opus had me pausing to catch my breath.  Savages had me looking at my watch, counting down the number of minutes it had left to make something happen.

However, when the two hours and almost eleven minutes (2:21 for the unrated version) reaches its finale, things take a few turns for the worse.  See, they apparently realized (and admit via more of Lively’s lifeless narration) that the way things wrap up was really unsatisfying, so they threw in an alternate ending right after the original ending that’s actually worse than what came before.  It was intended to be a sort of contrast of excitement versus realism, but neither ending gives the audience what they want or expect.  The alternate ending also drags on for longer than it should, is very heavy on narration, and just seems like they dropped the ball right when they should have been finishing with a bang.

Included with the feature are deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and feature commentary with the filmmakers.  Throwing Blu-ray, DVD, digital copy, and Ultraviolet into one case gives you replete options for viewing, though personally I’m not sure I’ll ever want to watch it again.

It’s an uneven ride, what with the respectable cast and care given to certain elements of the film, but when held up against the shortfalls, inconsistencies, and problems with the ending(s), it adds up to being an okay time with minor disappointments here and there.

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About Mark Buckingham