SAVAGES – Review by Susan Granger

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Every generation has its new invasion of savages – so now it’s Mexico’s drug cartels. That’s what Southern California’s Laguna Beach weed barons/best buddies Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) discover when they’re presented with a merchandising offer they can’t refuse from mega-powerful, Tijuana-based Elena Sanchez (Salma Hayek) and her ruthless enforcer Lado (Benicio del Toro), backed by corrupt D.E.A. agent Dennis (John Travolta).

Disparate in personalities but bizarrely devoted to one another since high school, Ben is a sensitive, UC Berkeley-educated botanist, who takes time off to dig water wells in Burma and donate laptops to African children, while Chon is a cynical, battle-scarred Navy SEAL/Iraq War veteran who brought back their original buds from Afghanistan. Most implausibly, they graciously share a vacuous, shopaholic girl-friend, Ophelia (Blake Lively), called O, who gets kidnapped yet obviously lives to narrate this cannabis-fueled reminiscence although her survival is often in question.

O’s calls one “a Buddhist,” the other “a Baddist,” describing sex with volatile Chon as “I have orgasms; he has war-gasms.”

Channeling Quentin Tarantino’s testosterone-fueled, ironic style, filmmaker Oliver Stone (“Natural Born Killers,” “JFK,” “Any Given Sunday”) optioned Don Winslow’s pulpy drug war novel before it was published in 2010 and began work on the screenplay adaption, which wallows in excessively grisly gore, particularly when double-crossing Ben and Chon frame Elena’s political pal Alex (Demian Bichir) to get tortured as an informant and then abduct Elena’s estranged daughter Magda (Sandra Echeverria) to use as their pawn in a hostage-exchange plan.

Taylor Kitsch (“Battleship,” “John Carter”) and Aaron Johnson (“Kick-Ass”) are two of Hollywood’s blandest leading boys, while bland Blake Lively (“The Town”) whines winsomely. Reportedly, Jennifer Lawrence was originally cast as O but wisely chose “The Hunger Games” instead and, although Uma Thurman played O’s mother, her scenes were discarded. According to production notes, all the lushly photographed pot plants are artificial, although production designers researched medical marijuana growers for authenticity.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Savages” is a silly, sordid, sadistic 6, filled with gratuitously excessive grisly, graphic violence.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.