It isn’t a requirement that you like a movie’s central characters, but it usually helps develop rooting interest. That’s one reason Savages comes up short: it’s difficult to care about anyone. If director and co-writer Oliver Stone had told the story more compactly, or not encouraged some of his actors to play their roles so broadly, the results might be different.
Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson play high-end drug dealers who have built a powerful business from their beautiful home base in Laguna Beach, California. Kitsch is a hard-nosed Iraqi war veteran, while Johnson is more interested in using their profits to fund good works around the world. Blake Lively loves them both, which makes her a target for a Mexican drug cartel run by cold-blooded Salma Hayek when she needs to persuade them to work with her. By kidnaping Lively she knows she’ll capture their attention. Keeping the reins on her smarmy lieutenant (Benicio Del Toro) is more of a problem, just as the surfer-dude drug czars have their hands full dealing with crooked DEA official John Travolta.
Most of these characters are low-lifes, and spending more than two hours in their company is not my idea of a good time. If Savages rewarded me with clever story turns, or insights into the drug culture, I might feel different. As it stands, I got bored about halfway through, and as the story became more brutal and the acting more broad, I grew actively annoyed.
I suppose there is some wish-fulfillment quotient in depicting two bright guys who manage to make it big without resorting to violence or double-dealing—and share a hot blonde between them—but the movie dispels that feeling after the first ten minutes or so. Stone gets co-screenplay credit with Shane Salerno and Don Winslow, whose novel was the basis for Savages. Perhaps the story reads better than it plays. Or perhaps something was lost in the translation.