by Steve Habrat
Controversial filmmaker Oliver Stone has plenty of hits to his name. He penned Scarface and directed classics like Platoon, Wall Street, The Doors, JFK, and Natural Born Killers, to name a few. After a string of misfires and a hurried W., Stone returns to splatter territory with Savages, a wannabe Natural Born Killers that was adapted from Don Winslow’s novel of the same name. Savages is ripe with potential but Stone seems to be holding back his punches that he throws at us, failing to really engage us intellectually for a good majority of the runtime. It also doesn’t help that his three young leads, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, and Blake Lively, are all astoundingly comatose compared to heavy hitters like the scorching Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek. Savages lifts the camerawork of Natural Born Killers and drags along almost as many buckets of gore, but the story rambles on for entirely too long and gets a kick out of trying to overcomplicate itself, which is laughable because the film isn’t that complicated to begin with. I hoped that Savages would be a biting drug thriller that would join the ranks of Stone’s classics but alas, it falls more along the lines of World Trade Center.
Savages is told from the point of view of O (Played by Blake Lively), who warns us at the beginning that just because she is narrating this story doesn’t mean she is alive at the end of it. O is in a three-way relationship with two top California pot growers, who churn out some of the strongest herb you can get your hands on. The brain behind the operation is the dreadlocked Ben (Played by Aaron Johnson) and the muscle of the business is former U.S. Navy SEAL Chon (Played by Taylor Kitsch). The group lives a cushy life in a beachfront home where they indulge in their product and engage in lots of steamy sex. Out of the blue one day, Chon discovers an email from the Mexican Baja Cartel that contains a gruesome video of several smalltime drug dealers being butchered due to refusing to do business with the BC. Ben and Chon meet with a handful of high-ranking members of the BC but they refuse the offer that is made to them. Word gets back the terrifying head of the BC, Elena (Played by Salma Hayek), and as revenge, she sends her sadistic enforcer Lado (Played by Benicio Del Toro) to kidnap their girlfriend. With O in Elena’s clutches, she bullies Ben and Chon into doing business with her but she soon realizes that these two California boys have a lot more fight in them than she anticipated.
There is certainly plenty of hyperactive energy in this Technicolor massacre with plenty of excessive violence to make those with a weak tummy fight back their lunch, but you can’t help but feel that Stone has watered down his trickling gore. It could be called maturity on Stone’s part but Savages lacks a commentary behind all this carnage. Plus, it is difficult to say that this man has matured when he starts his movie off with heads being lobbed off with a roaring chain saw and an animalistic sex scene, all sound, flesh, and fury that ultimately signifies nothing. With Natural Born Killers, each speckle of blood meant something and we knew it. Here, the most intelligent touch from Stone is the way he slips in old Universal Studios monsters posters (Frankenstein, The Mummy, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man, to name a few) throughout the movie, placing them carefully behind Chon and Ben. Even so, what does this mean? Perhaps Stone is making a comment on the progression of the movie monster. They used to be undead ghouls who snuck around gothic castles but now they are young entrepreneurs in floral shirts. To make it even clearer to us, when Ben and Chon are forced to get savage, they cover their faces in Dia de los Muertos masks to become visually monstrous. Our antagonists do the same, but they do it right off the bat in the opening sequence. Can you believe this is coming from the man responsible for that string of gems I listed earlier?
Stone populates Savages with a trio of young faces who no doubt bring the sex appeal but none of the grit that Stone is aiming for. Blake Lively provides the somnolent narration, sounding like she is stoned for half the movie. She further acts as a wrecking ball when she is required to do more than fake an explosive orgasm. The massive talented Taylor Kitsch, who really delivered a strong performance in Battleship, only brushes with that trembling rage every now and then which was a flat out bummer. Aaron Johnson, of Kick-Ass fame, plays a blurry-eyed hippie blessed with business smarts as well as a knack for botany. He loathes the very though of violence and empties his stomach when he is asked to shoot a taunting baddie promising to murder his entire family (What family?). We learn about the drastically different personalities of these young guns through O’s description of the way they make love. This explanation gives way to what could be the most outrageous line of dialogue I have heard from a motion picture in 2012. O tells us that she has “orgasms” while Chon has “wargasams”. I’ll wait while you finish laughing…
Luckily, the kids don’t hog the spotlight and Stone allows Hayek and Del Toro to have some fun at center stage. Hayek is a tour de force as the matriarch of the BC, putting on a quiet cool before she unleashes a stream of wrath that is part English, part Spanish, and all Hell. She is reeling from the death of her husband and nurses a broken heart for several murdered children she has had the misfortune of burying. Her remaining children want nothing to do with her and in her loneliness, she turns to O for some sort of comfort. Del Toro, meanwhile, single handedly steals the show away from everyone with his sociopathic enforcer Lado, who proudly wears a stunning mullet. You won’t be able to take your eyes of this guy and when he struts into the action, your stomach will drop one hundred feet. John Travolta also shows up in a minor role that doesn’t make him look like a complete fool for once. He has a blast as the slimy DEA agent Dennis, who is playing on all sides of this bloody game. When Stone keeps the focus on these professionals, Savages actually manages to be a great movie, but that is only glimpsed briefly.
Savages does have a precious few moments that will have you on the edge of your seat, but all that tension is squandered when Stone arrives at the fake-out conclusion that is absolutely unnecessary. It was almost like Stone stepped away from the project and allowed an imitator to swoop in and finish the job. Making matters worse, Lively is such an inconsistent actress that she makes moments of the film difficult to watch. A scene where she begs to speak with Elena had my buddies and I rolling our eyes in disgust over how unconvincing her pleas sound. The film also drags on for slightly over two hours, allowing this trio of star crossed lovers to chatter on and on about absolutely nothing. Lets get to that stuff that matters! Overall, I wish Savages had more on its mind, a huge kick to the gonads because Stone is sharper than this. We should be grateful that Hayek, Del Toro, and Travolta brought their A-game. They are three snarling Pit Bulls while these other kids are yapping Chihuahuas.
by Steve Habrat
In a summer where the local movie theater has been besieged by tights–wearing superheroes who mostly found their allegiance to the Marvel camp, it was only a matter of time before one of them stumbled over their cape. This is not to say that we haven’t had a good summer movie season so far. Thor was an unexpected treasure and X-Men: First Class sits nicely at the top as one of the greatest to come out in quite a while. Now, we have DC Comic’s offering and his name is the Green Lantern. Perhaps you’ve seen a TV spot or two for this one? Or maybe a poster or three? Warner Bros. has launched a massively epic promotional campaign for Green Lantern in an attempt to lure crowds to the movie theater and I think I know why—because he is so excruciatingly un-extraordinary it becomes almost unfathomable. Green Lantern doesn’t really DO anything! He just spouts off one-liners, flies around in a green suit, and hits on Blake Lively. That pretty much sums up the experience of Green Lantern—it doesn’t particularly have much to do. It just thinks it does.
To be fair, I know basically nothing about the Green Lantern. I know he sports a green suit and has a magical ring that lets him create anything that he wants. That was as far as my knowledge went on the DC space cop. I didn’t know that the lore was alien-heavy and drenched in a vibrant day-glo ambiance. His first cinematic outing showed promise by a decently edited trailer and the presence of director Martin Campbell, who shocked the Bond franchise back to life with what I believe to be the best Bond film ever made, Casino Royale. But Green Lantern is a gigantic neon mess of a movie. The film boasts four writers and it’s painfully obvious. The film also inexplicably appears to be directed by three different directors, as it can’t decide on one specific tone. One moment it’s a light-hearted superhero flick for kiddies, the next second it’s a trippy sci-fi action film, then it shifts into dark and gritty territory, then a self-discovery drama, and finally taking the camp route all while drenching itself in endless clichés. It does manage to cough up a few bright moments every once in a while, which makes this jumble somewhat more endurable.
The film starts off with a complex back-story that I wont dive into in my review. I will however tell you this—the movie follows Hal Jordan (played by the wise-cracking Ryan Reynolds) who is an irresponsible hotshot pilot for the Air Force. One night, dying purple skinned alien Abin Sur, who has crash-landed on earth after narrowly escaping a menacing encounter with the hair-raising Parallax, rips Jordan away from his nephew’s birthday party. Abin Sur proceeds to tell Jordan that his Green Lantern ring has chosen him as his replacement in the Green Lantern Corps. Thus begins Jordan’s journey as the Green Lantern, the first human chosen as one of the protectors of the galaxy. Soon the same force that killed Abin Sur threatens Earth and it’s up to Jordan to defend mankind. Green Lantern of course has a love interest. She’s fellow pilot Carrol Ferris (played by The Town’s Blake Lively), who criticizes Jordan for his reckless behavior and has apparently been burned by Jordan in the past. She naturally still houses feelings for him and vice versa. Jordan finds himself envied by the eccentric and timid scientist Hector Hammond (played by the superb Peter Sarsgaard), who accidentally contracts the powers of Parallax in an autopsy on Abin Sur.
Somewhere in Green Lantern, there is a good movie trying to get out. Instead it settles for mediocrity. The Green Lantern’s ring provides him with the ability to create anything his imagination conjures up in a battle with a baddie. At one point, he creates a Gatling gun and in another moment, he creates a racetrack and turns a crashing helicopter into a dragster. In a back alley brawl, he dreams up a giant fist and knocks three thugs on their asses. It’s a neat gimmick that is rarely utilized by the film. It simply never makes a big deal about this ability and instead it subtly shows up from time to time. Further troubling is Reynolds himself, he at times looks like he is so bored in this role and that he’s secretly dreaming he’s on the set of a different movie. He shows absolutely no commitment in Hal Jordan and gives him about as much depth as a kiddie pool. He plays Jordan like a bad imitation combination of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. I was troubled from the get-go over his casting and the film only solidifies my concern. Just like his superpower power, he is exceedingly lackluster.
Given all the talent that signed on to the movie (Tim Robbins!?), there is one shining star among the group and that is Sarsgaard’s Hector Hammond. If they are to do a sequel to this, and I’m quite sure that they will, they should make a prequel about Hammond. He’s the only character that isn’t a walking cliché from another superhero movie. He’s an intriguing antagonist and his descent into homicidal madness is the films high point partly because it is basically the only part of the film that provides some real emotion. He slithers through the role as if he’s the only one aware of how bad everyone else is in it. He’s the only one who shows any effort. The most thrilling part of the movie is the climatic showdown between him and the Green Lantern. Unfortunately, it’s all too brief.
Green Lantern further blinds the audience to its mediocre story with heaping globs of neon CGI. It’s non-stop eye candy that is agonizingly artificial. The people behind this thing poured so much into the visuals that they completely forgot to give the thing a human heart. Nothing seems genuine about it and it’s a tailor-made franchise flick. It does offer up a couple intriguing sequences, which are mostly the ones consisting of Hammond and Green Lantern duking it out. The rest are dazzling trips to Oa, the planet that the Green Lantern Corps finds its headquarters. It’s teeming with peculiar aliens that babble on with nonsensical mumbo-jumbo about fear but it’s a place that you won’t mind visiting.
Putting it bluntly, Green Lantern is a pretty lousy movie. Before the film came out, several Warner Bros. heads ranted and raved about how superb the script was for this movie. After seeing the finished product, it must have sounded better on paper because the film is a blatant cash cow franchise flick with absolutely no build-up, a limp hero, and weighed down with too much CGI. The film is impersonal, lacking any trace of spirit. It seems like they were desperate to have another superhero hit outside of Batman, given the tanking of Superman Returns. It’s too bad that the Green Lantern can’t use his ring and imagine a better movie, one that is not all over the place and with a back-story that is not quickly brushed over in a senseless action scene.
Green Lantern is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.