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Review: Vets Outshine Leads in 'Savages'

Business makes for strange bedfellows, but for Chon, Ben and O, strange bedfellows makes for everyday life.

Audiences watching Savages may be wondering how their shared relationship works, but they are asked to accept it relatively early as intimate scenes come fast and frequently. The film depends on the audience's ability to believe that Chon, Ben and O really love one another and that love never seems to coalesce.

Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson and Blake Lively perform admirably, but their chemistry is always in question. That wouldn't be a problem if we weren't asked to believe that Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) are best friends and they would do anything to save O (Blake Lively), currently held in a compound guarded by a particularly psychotic Lado (Benecio Del Toro, in gleeful killer mode). Elena (Salma Hayek) wants Ben and Chon's successful drug business, and if she has to kill people to get it, she will. Yet, Elena underestimates these two Laguna residents and her mistakes pile up into corpses. What once started out as a business transaction has transformed into a brutal, bloody war.

The slights of Savages aren't given much time to build to a fault as heavily stylized action scenes are often made the sole focus of the film. Vibrant colors lend themselves to pictures like this and Stone does best when he puts a gun in Taylor Kitsch's hand and lets him go to work. Still, the veterans of the cast outshine the young leads frequently. Salma Hayek is in prime form as a cartel leader with a serious case of Empty Nest Syndrome. Similarly, Benecio Del Toro and John Travolta's turns are highlights. When the film focuses on these storylines and puts Hayek, Del Toro and Travolta front and center, the technicolor excess works. 

If gruesome violence is too much for your sensibilities then there it should come as no surprise that sex is thrown into the mix as well. Multiple decapitations, rape, torture, all make an appearance in the film. Oliver Stone has returned to a primal state after several years of prestige films and documentaries about Latin America. The last time Stone was this colorful and violent was during turns as helmer of U-Turn and Natural Born Killers.

Oddly enough, for all of the harshness of the film, Stone takes the easy way out before concluding the film. In this case of Stone's genre flicks Savages is much closer to the former rather than the latter. 

**/****

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