A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro
Last night’s movie: theatrical sneak preview of Oliver Stone’s drug thriller SAVAGES, based on a recent best-seller by Don Winslow.
The movie stars Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson as a pair of self-made California pot millionaires, Blake Lively as the (by design) rather vapid and ambition-deprived hottie they share, and Salma Hayek as the leader of a Mexican drug cartel they find themselves in… contention with; Benicio del Toro is the murderous chief thug of said cartel, and a pudgy and balding John Travolta — who as my companion Bill Wilson noted, has transmogrified into Clint Howard — as a corrupt DEA agent. When the hottie is kidnapped by the cartel to make sure our boys play ball, they go to war to get her back.
The good news is that this is a character-based thriller, which has a couple of action scenes but is mostly predicated on intrigue and the clash of strong personalities. Though the two protagonists are not as interesting as the bad(der) guys, Kitsch in particular is given more of a character to play than he had in JOHN CARTER, and doesn’t stumble. The vapidity of the kidnapped girlfriend is, for a change, an actual deliberate character design, which leads to some fun when Hayek’s character, who is perfectly ready to kill her but also a Mom with a daughter the same age, gives her a hard talking-to; Lively is very good in the part. And del Toro is a profoundly fine main thug.
The bad news is that it’s directed by Oliver Stone, which means that we get lots and lots of ridiculously extreme facial close-ups of all the characters, frequently instead of set-ups that would permit them to interact (but this is a problem with many current movies and not a fight I’m about to win here). We get a little too much of the Aaron Johnson character’s idealistic activities throughout the world — he’s a stoner guy who thinks he can use his pot empire to fund his global activism, and while I buy this, we return to it so often I wish the film had the balls to examine the contradictions a bit more. One key stratagem our protagonists use against Hayek’s drug lord is telegraphed an hour and a half before it’s needed. And the climax involves a narrative gimmick that may come from the novel, but which made last night’s otherwise very enthused audience snort in disbelief.
Not a bad movie. Not a great one, but an enjoyable one.