Saturday, July 07, 2012


History is made at night 9:30 AM on the upper west side of Manhattan: Savages is the first Oliver Stone movie I have ever seen in the theater, and that includes any repertory screenings of JFK, my #1 movie of all time. I'm not sure WHY I was so excited to see this particular effort, since it so clearly reminded me of U-Turn and I really hated U-Turn. Savages is just as junky and just as in love with the hazy lawlessness of the Southwest, but while U-Turn wallowed in weirdness for weirdness sake and a flailing series of double-crosses, Savages seems more comfortable just being what it is and letting its story play out. Which leaves room for all sorts of fun things, from hammy performances to -- and I'm just as shocked as you are -- likeable characters who you end up invested in without even realizing it. Looking at you, Ben the Botanist with the Heart of Gold; and Elena the Cartel Madam with the Also Heart of More Tarnished Gold.

Speaking of the latter ... Salma Hayek, you guys! You could tell from the trailer that she would be eating up all the scenery in sight, but I had no idea she'd be doing so in so many interesting ways. She screams, she preens (in some of the most inspired costume-based sight gags I've seen in a while), she rolls her eyes at empty-headed Americans while going to town on some fine dining. ( Make it happen, someone.) She's having an absolute ball on screen, and I honestly don't know why she's not getting the exact same kind of "Salma being Salma" kudos that Matthew McConaughey is reaping for Magic Mike.

As for the Blake Lively Situation, which appears to be a sticking point for critics of the movie, I thought she did exactly what you hire Blake Lively to do: play a gorgeous, naïve, kind of ridiculous in her ignorance of her own privilege girl who gets it juuust enough to make a move or two on her own behalf. This isn't great acting, but of all of the characters in the movie, she's the one who has to deliver the most ridiculous dialogue. All that voice-over -- that thick, gauzy voice-over about the best-laid plans of mice and polyamorous men -- and she gives it pretty much the right amount of dreamy self-seriousness. I'm not sure I'll be able to hear the word "wargasms" again without thinking of her.

The whole cast is pretty much up to the job. Benicio Del Toro has decided to embrace his creepy weirdness in a way he hasn't since, what, The Usual Suspects? And you know who I NEVER expected to enjoy in a movie again? John Travolta. You know who's kind of great in this? John Travolta! Okay, "great" is a relative term. But he clears some seriously lowered expectations by a LOT, sputtering the righteous indignation of an American law enforcement officer grown fat on kickbacks. If there's one area of the movie I'm willing to give Oliver Stone credit for deeper meaning -- and ONE only -- it's in this character. That really is the only deeper meaning happening here. Which is fine! I wanted junk and I got very entertaining junk. But if I see Stone on TV talking about how this movie is a shot across the bow of U.S. drug-enforcement policy or something like that, I'm gonna start frowning like a motherfucker.

I'll tell you what SHOULD be discussed, in deep philosophical terms, though: Aaron Johnson's hair. I was SO worried from the trailer that he'd be in dreads the whole movie and thus have his beauty diminished. But in the BEST NEWS of the whole afternoon, I found that the dreadlocks were only in flashbacks, and for the bulk of the movie, Johnson's working some rather luxurious surfer-type hair (albeit the type that you just know he's going to neglect into knotty awfulness again at some point). Really, let's talk about Aaron Johnson for a minute, huh? Because at this point, the Movie Crush Threat Level is red and blinking. Check out his character here. Ben is:

1) a smartie (he's a botanist!)
2) growing the best weed in, like, all of history, including the Inca and shit
3) a philanthropist, to the plays-soccer-with-African-kids degree
4) not all that judgy about how his best friend enjoys inflicting bodily harm on people
5) a sensitive yet enthusiastic lover
6) the kind of guy who gets REALLY messed up -- internally, feelings-wise -- when he gets called upon to shoot and (later) torture some bad guys to death, which shows he has a conscience.

And he's played by Aaron Johnson, who -- and where was THIS on all the posters? -- gets nakeder in this movie than he EVER HAS BEFORE. (Once again, I have to recognize one of my favorite emerging trends in movies, where the ingénue declines to show her breasts on film but her male costars are shaking it like the rent is due. Summer of Dudesploitation 2.0!)

Oh, one last thing: Emile Hirsch is in this movie? Rather briefly and certainly not worthy of being on the marketing (so good thing he wasn't), but I was struck by the fact that 3-4 years ago, Hirsch would have absolutely played the Aaron Johnson role. (The Taylor Kitsch role would have been played by Stop-Loss-era Channing Tatum or, like, Dane Cook.) And now he's reduced to playing Tech Support and wearing demeaning bicyclist clothes all movie. Shame.

Not a shame: Savages! Everything I wanted and much a little bit more!


Patty said...

SO good to have you back in long-form, Joe!

Jeff Hansen said...

I am damn, damn, damn opposed to the end of Extra Hot Great. BUT, if this means you posting more to LoRes then I will accept that as somewhat of a make-good.

olins said...

So the pretty white drug dealers get off and get off, while all the nasty brown people die. Not surprising that the end has been changed, but a shame.