Poor Taylor Kitsch. After nabbing that plum role of Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine back in 2009 you would have expected him to garner more attention. A few years later in 2012 and sure enough that attention was finally realised, unfortunately not in the way anyone expected. Headlining consecutive big-budget flops, John Carter and Battleship, Savages makes it three strikes for him in one year – with this being the worst of the lot.
Based on a book of the same name and helmed by Oliver Stone, Kitsch plays former Navy SEAL and hard man Chon, a yin to his harmless best friend Ben’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) yang. Together they are the brains and brawn of their marijuana empire in California, with their huge profits and renowned ‘pure’ weed attracting the attention of Mexican drug lord Elena (Salma Hayek) and her henchman Lado (Benicio Del Toro).
After they decline an offer to go into partnership, she forces the issue by kidnapping O (Blake Lively), the love of both Chon and Ben’s life. As their hedonistic lifestyle is thrown into jeopardy, they hatch a plan to take on the Cartel and rescue her.
Touted as a sexy, violent thriller, it certainly gets the violent part right. Del Toro’s Lado dishes out most of the deaths in gory fashion, yet it is difficult to take his acts of murder and torture seriously when he has the appearance of a cartoon character, with a speedy Gonzalez voice to match. This trend is followed by John Travolta, overacting as corrupt officer Dennis, and Hayek, putting on her worst performance in memory as a supposedly-ruthless overlord. Watching her strut around barking orders is painful to watch, particularly when we see her allowing her hostage into her bed to casually chat about mundane American reality dating shows.
The sexy bit could not be any more blatant, immediately thrust into our faces from the start with the sight of Kitsch’s butt ravaging Lively. The further the film develops, it’s fair to say having two, and later on, three, beautiful young leads getting down to it is probably not as appealing as it sounds on paper. You have to put this down to Stone’s glossily dull directing (having not done anything decent since 1999’s Any Given Sunday), attempting to glamourize almost every scene with a sunlit backdrop.
You can’t fault him for his casting though. Kitsch and Taylor-Johnson have good chemistry, and generally having the names Del Toro, Hayek, Travolta and even Emile Hirsch, in a small role as a courier, would grace any high-profile film. However, Blake Lively is an extremely poor actress. She does her job as eye-candy but her over-sentimental narration renders her role as a constant annoyance. And this isn’t good when you’re basing a storyline around the rescue of her character.
There is some redemption in that Chon and Ben are an engaging team; Kitsch not being as bad as you would expect and Taylor-Johnson playing his part as a Californian stoner so flawlessly you forget he’s this British kid from High Wycombe. But with an ending straight out of Nicolas Cage’s Next, its borderline arrogance to think an audience would buy into such contrived film-making.
Savages is a disappointing, muddled mess that deserves to be kept in the wilderness of the careers for all those involved. It really couldn’t get any worse for Kitsch, and most certainly can only get better for Taylor-Johnson.